Outdoor Learning – Teaching Creative Arts in the Playground

outdoor creative arts

The school playground is the ideal place for delivering the creative curriculum. Away from the confines of the classroom, the openness of the playground gives children the freedom and space to unleash their creativity and explore their inventiveness. But how, as teachers, do you facilitate learning in the outdoor space? Here, we’ll look at some of the exciting activities children can participate in in the playground and the types of equipment, now available, that help children develop creative skills outdoors.

Getting musical

Everywhere you go you’ll hear music. It’s an integral part of all our lives and is supported by a huge, varied and very successful industry in which there is a multitude of career options. Despite its popularity, few pupils ever end up taking music it at GCSE and beyond and so miss out on those exciting careers. One of the reasons for this is that there is a lack of opportunity to learn the skills and explore musical creativity.

One way to overcome this is to make musical instruments accessible in the playground for use during outdoor music lessons and during free time. This, of course, is difficult, as instruments are expensive pieces of equipment, kids are likely to damage them and there’s little in reserve to buy replacements.

Instead of handing out what’s left of your dwindling string and wood sections in the hope that they’ll come back in one piece, a far better option is to install purpose-built outdoor percussion instruments that are designed to be banged around by kids and are made to live outdoors.

When it comes to creativity, our outdoor musical instruments give younger pupils the chance to experiment with sound and rhythm, make up tunes, practice skills and work in an ensemble. And with drainpipe drums, xylophones, chimes, washboards and more to choose from, you’ll find these instruments are excellent for children of all interests and abilities.

Artful adventures

The playground is undoubtedly one of the best places to deliver the art curriculum. With people, landscapes, nature and architecture to inspire creative ideas and the movement of natural light to provide a range of different moods, it adds a gamut of opportunities not available in the classroom.

That said, it’s difficult to practice technical skills, work with new media or explore different art forms without the right equipment. Coming up with a masterpiece isn’t easy when you’re sat on a soggy bit of grass trying to stop the sheet of paper from being blown off the backing board. It’s a shared experience that most adults will have of their school days.

Luckily for today’s young learners, this no longer has to be the case. At ESP Play, we have developed outdoor art equipment that helps teachers deliver the curriculum and which enables children to learn effectively, whether they are in lessons or just enjoying being creative during their free time. This includes chalkboards, painting stations and whiteboards which are either free-standing, tabletop or are incorporated into specially designed picnic tables. For those who are interested in exploring alternative media, there’s even a textile weaving board.

Playground performances

Drama is a vital subject in schools, not just for developing creative skills but for building confidence and improving communication. It also plays a valuable role in the teaching of English and PHCSE, helping children explore characters, themes and plot, as well as the real-life situations and feelings that children will need to deal with as they grow older.

Most children like to act, especially when it's improvised roleplay and they can use their creativity to make up their own characters, situations and worlds. This is made easier for them when they are given the right stimulus to invent. ESP Play’s range of imaginative outdoor equipment is designed to do exactly this, offering a range of inspirational apparatus, such as trains, pirate boats, carriages, wooden bridges, tunnels and shop kiosks that are ripe for improvisation.

For more formal performances, we also have a range of outdoor stages which come in different shapes, sizes and designs to suit different playground settings. These are ideal for outdoor drama lessons, rehearsals and performances, as well as for children to create their own plays and dance routines during their free time.

Conclusion

Creativity should never be underestimated in schools – it is, after all, the highest level of skill according to Bloom’s Taxonomy. Fostering a love of the creative subjects helps children acquire skills that are transferable across the curriculum, making them creative thinkers as well as accomplished artists, musicians and performers. Enabling creativity, however, requires children to have greater freedom and the space to explore, which is why the playground is the ideal place to deliver the arts curriculum. And with the right equipment in place, anything is possible.

For more information about our range of creative playground equipment, visit our Products page.

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5 Outdoor Imaginative Play Ideas For EYFS

EYFS Imaginative play equipment

The ability of imaginative play to support children’s cognitive development makes it an essential ingredient of EYFS. It enables children to explore, discover and make connections and helps them develop critical language and thinking skills. The great news for EYFS teachers is that there are many great ways to introduce imaginative play into the playground. Here we’ll look at five of the best.

The playground is the perfect environment for imaginative play. Outdoors, children are allowed to run, climb, make noise, get messy, put their hands on things and get stuck in. And with more space and fewer restrictions, they are freer to unleash their imaginations and benefit more from their play. This is especially true when there is a variety of imaginative play options for them to choose from. Hopefully, the ones we mention below will give you an idea of how to create a more imaginative environment for your EYFS pupils.

1. A world of pretend

Young children love roleplay and pretend play and they are naturally inclined to get involved. Here, they’ll use their imaginations to invent new worlds, play different characters and act out endless scenarios, all of which help them to understand the world they live in. They’ll explore situations, feelings and relationships, discover new ways to interact, finding out more about themselves as they do so.

The best way to encourage roleplay and pretend play is to provide a range of opportunities for children to imagine being someone, something or somewhere else. The easiest way is to provide improvisation stimuli, like props and costumes. However, you can take this to a completely new level by introducing imaginative play products like pirate ships, wigwams, bridges, tunnels, play huts and trains. Outdoor play equipment of this kind can transport children’s imaginations to a world of new experiences while speeding up their cognitive development.

2. Action adventure

While there is purpose-built apparatus to stimulate pretend play, feedback from our customers has shown that a lot of our active play equipment is also used for imaginative play. As a result, we’ve incorporated some imaginative elements into our active play equipment. Our Tangled, rope playing equipment, for example, is inspired by giant spiders and spiders’ webs, our castle play towers are inspired by medieval castles and our Wild Wood collection has seen new additions that incorporate tree and leaf designs and wobbly seats.

3. Glorious mud

Okay, real mud might be a bit too messy for EYFS environments, but messy play, in general, is excellent for developing imaginations. It’s fun, it's tangible, it's hands-on and it's great for developing sensory perception, problem-solving and decision-making skills. From traditional activities like sandpits and mud kitchens to more modern innovations, like magnetic water walls and splash trays, there are opportunities to learn about physical properties, make decisions about how to make things and solve problems when those sandcastles don’t turn out just right.

4. Sound and music

Imaginative play that involves sound and music is great for developing sensory skills, helping children to differentiate different sounds and patterns. There are lots of ways you can introduce sound making into the playground: tins and plastic containers partially filled with rice or dried peas, bendy tubes that whistle when you whirl them, gongs, cymbals and bells, speaking cones made from rolled-up sheets of paper and so forth.

Alternatively, you can install outdoor musical instruments specially designed for heavy use in EYFS playgrounds. Purpose-built to inspire the imaginations of young ones, they include drainpipe drums and drum tables, xylophones, washboards and chimes. Together, they provide a range of different percussion instruments which, as they don’t need specific musical skills to play, enable children to explore sound and music independently, with friends or in teacher-led activities.

5. Fantasy and fiction

Nothing opens up young imaginations more than listening to a good story – whether it's read to them by a teacher or told to them by a classmate. It takes their minds to places they have never previously imagined and in doing so, expands their own imaginations and helps them create stories of their own.

How do you create the perfect storytelling environment? At ESP, we’ve come up with a solution that we think is the perfect fantasy setting for listening to fiction: a circle of toadstool designed chairs with a large, wooden fairy tale inspired storytelling chair taking centre stage. Gathering around to listen will be like stepping into a magic world. And, of course, anyone can take that seat and tell their wonderful stories.

Conclusion

EYFS children learn through play and imaginative play is one of the best ways to develop those all-important cognitive skills. To facilitate this effectively, schools and nurseries need to provide resources and equipment that encourage children to take part and inspire them to fire up their imaginations. Hopefully, the suggestions we have made here will give you ideas for your own playground.

For more information and to see our range of products, visit our Imaginative Play page.

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6 Ingenious School Playground Furniture Designs

Playground furniture

While traditional wooden benches and picnic tables will always have a role to play in furnishing a school playground, today they are joined by a growing collection of other playground furniture that provides a range of practical uses for a variety of different purposes. Here, we’ll take a look at some of the more ingenious ones available.

1. Wheelchair accessible picnic tables

Traditional picnic tables aren’t particularly practical for wheelchair users. Indeed, they can be seen as a subtle form of social exclusion. Though someone using a wheelchair can position themselves at the end of the table where there are no seats to get in the way, the support bar that holds the legs of the table together prevents them from getting close enough to use the tabletop like the rest of their friends. To use it at all they need to be able to lean forward, which might be impossible for some children and even for those that can, it’s not user-friendly.

A wheelchair-accessible picnic table simply has one of the benches removed. Doing this allows the wheelchair user to get as close to the surface as everyone else – helping them feel part of any conversation and use the tabletop to rest their elbows, put their lunch boxes on or read a book. It’s a practical solution and, importantly, makes your playground seating inclusive.

2. Playground amphitheatres

If your circle times are often plagued by soggy bottoms from children having to sit on damp soil, the playground amphitheatre is your ideal solution. Made from sturdy logs and available in one, two and three-tier sizes, the largest able to seat up to 30 children, they provide comfortable circular seating ideal for group discussions, drama, story times and any other activity you could use them for. What’s more, their attractive shape and tiers are a natural draw for pupils who just love to use them to chat with friends during breaktimes.

3. Easel tables

Great for both learning and play, these are picnic style tables that have been transformed into sit down easels that children can use for a variety of artistic pursuits. There are three different types to choose from: a drywipe whiteboard, chalkboard and a magnetic board, with the boards raised at a slant to face the child. All easel tables are double-sided so pairs of children can sit together on either side, working individually or collaboratively in their chosen medium.

4. Story telling chair and mushroom seats

A story telling chair surrounded by mushroom seats creates the ideal storytelling circle to get young children engrossed in the magical pleasures of a good literary adventure. The high backed wooden chair with its rustic arms and half-moon and star design makes a perfect centrepiece to draw children’s attention, while the yellow mushroom-shaped seats with their red spots are a fun and inviting way to sit and enjoy the story. Made from moulded multi-coloured rubber crumbs, they are safe and comfortable and come in two different sizes.

5. Planter seating units

Want to give your children somewhere to sit with a touch of nature? Planter seating units provide both. Made from wood, they provide a comfortable bench for children to sit on but instead of being supported by legs, the benches rest on sturdy planters in which you can grow flowers, shrubs or climbers. Ideal for placing in green areas of your playground, or indeed, to help create a green area if you don’t have one, they provide a practical place to sit with all the benefits of mother nature.  They come in small and large sizes and there are even corner versions available.

If you have trees in your play area, you could also consider a hexagonal tree bench.  Designed to go around the entire trunk of the tree so that the children can sit back and lean on it, they offer a quiet escape from the busier parts of the playground while also helping to keep children sheltered from the hot sun or light showers.

6. Crooked benches and tables

Who needs nice straight benches or picnic table when you can find a gnarly crooked one to sit on? We know which one young children would prefer. Purposely designed to look crooked, they are, of course, extremely sturdy and safe to use but with added fun built-in. There are benches of different sizes, a picnic table and two special versions, the crooked pine tree bench and crooked compass tree seat, that have a tall wooden pine tree-shaped post as their centrepiece. If you’re looking to create a playground with a sense of magic and wonder, these are the perfect seating solutions.

Conclusion

With a little bit of inventiveness, the playground furniture of today provides some unique improvements on the standard pieces you find everywhere. They make playgrounds more inclusive, provide greater opportunities for play and creativity and make the playground more enjoyable and inviting for everyone.

For more information about all these pieces of playground furniture, visit our Seating page.

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Council Playground Closures Put Spotlight on Schools

council playgrounds

There’s a seismic shift going on in the world of playgrounds. It’s not too long ago that school playgrounds were little more than large expanses of empty tarmac and that the public park was the place to find all the exciting equipment. Today, that situation is very much the reverse. While many schools have made considerable improvements to their playgrounds, cash strapped councils are having to close theirs down.

According to a recent article in the Guardian, a funding crisis in the play sector means many public playgrounds are in such a dilapidated state that councils are no longer in a position to reopen them. After years of austerity and the capping of council tax, councils have been forced to focus their spending on statutory responsibilities. As a result, play provision has disappeared off the list of priorities. Not only are improvements becoming fewer; many authorities are struggling just to pay for the necessary maintenance of existing playground equipment, without which it is unwise and potentially unsafe to keep them open.

The Association of Play Industries has found that over 340 playgrounds have been closed across England over the last few years and those still in use have seen their budgets cut by £13 million, year on year. In many cases, it is groups of parents who are seeking to make improvements, often having to resort to crowdfunding to pay for any repairs.

This is not, however, the only problem for parents and children looking for play areas. While the government has begun the process of mass home building across the country to deal with the housing shortage, families moving into these areas are finding few, if any, local playgrounds being developed at the same time. Despite a playground being an amenity that could improve the value for all the homes in these areas, developers stand to make more money using those spaces to build more houses. Many of those which have been built remain largely unused because the budgets were so small they hold no attraction for the children.

For those living in social housing, it’s a lottery as to whether there’s a good local playground. Some housing associations are willing to invest properly in providing high-quality playgrounds while others will merely contribute towards their upkeep and assist local groups with fundraising activities.

What does this mean for schools?

Regardless of the numerous learning benefits that a school playground provides children with, the benefits of play for their physical health and mental wellbeing are considerable. It is recommended that children take part in an hour of physical activity every day. They can get much of this from taking part in playground games or from playing on equipment like climbing frames. Doing so helps keep them aerobically fit, strengthens their core muscles, improves physical skills like balance and coordination and improves general health and fitness. It also helps combat obesity and its associated illnesses that are increasingly common among children of all ages and which can have life-long consequences.

Physical activity has also been shown to have a beneficial effect on mental wellbeing, as does any form of social play that children participate in. Indeed, following the lockdown, there are many concerns about how the lack of socialising has affected children’s mental health and behaviour. When children first went back to school in September, schools reported more children struggling to play together and saw an increase in altercations. Ofsted, meanwhile, noted a concerning decrease in physical fitness.

As a result, child development experts are calling for parents and schools to give children and teenagers more time for active, outdoor play and socialising – something which contradicts Gavin Williamson's desire to extend school hours and provide summer schools to help children catch up with classwork.

However, with public playgrounds being closed down and many of those remaining needing maintenance before they can open once again, the spotlight falls very much on schools. Compared to a generation ago, today, the best equipped and safest playgrounds that children have access to are often found in the schoolyard, not at the local park or residential estate.

Conclusion

In the short term, when it comes to helping children deal with the aftermath of the pandemic, school playgrounds will have an important role to play in providing the physical and social activities long-isolated pupils so desperately need. In the long-term, however, if the number of public playgrounds continues to decline, the schoolyard may be, for many children, the only place left to enjoy the treasures of a well-equipped playground.

For more details about our playground equipment, visit our Products page.

 

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5 Questions to Ask Before Upgrading a School Playground

Though upgrading a school playground brings many advantages, it is often a major project and presents both opportunities and challenges. Before you can put designs on the table, there are some important questions to be asked. Here, we look at the key questions you need to consider.

1. Where will we find the funding?

Depending on the size of the playground and the equipment you want to install, a playground upgrade can come with a hefty price tag. While there may be funding available from within the school budget, many schools need to source additional funds from grants and raise money through fundraising activities. This may mean asking the PTA to run events, getting the children and staff involved in sponsored activities and seeing if any philanthropically minded members of the school or local community (including local businesses) are willing to make donations.

Careful design of the playground can help keep costs to a minimum and at ESP Play we point you in the right direction of potential grants and give ideas and advice on fundraising.

2. Where to create the upgrade?

Getting the most benefit from a school playground doesn’t always mean that the upgrade has to be in exactly the same space as your existing outdoor area. There’s always the potential to extend the area, join formerly separate areas together, shift the space over a little or even move it to the other side of the building. Why does the school have a south-facing car park and a north-facing playground when the opposite would be the obvious choice? Why is the one area of natural beauty on the school site nowhere near where the children play? Asking questions like these can help you think outside the box and realise the true potential of the space you have available.

Of course, there are many other things to consider, such as access, safety, planning permission, the suitability of the ground, the type of landscaping you want and so forth.

3. Who is going to use the playground?

While the obvious answer to this is the pupils, schools need to think very carefully about the children’s needs when planning an upgrade. One key factor will be inclusion. A playground needs not just to be accessible to all, but to provide opportunities for all. There’s no point putting a wheelchair access pathway to the playground if a wheelchair user is left unable to play with their friends or make use of any equipment. This principle applies to children with all needs.

At the same time, schools need to look at how children of different ages and interests play. The design you create should provide them with the activities they want to do during their free time. For some, this will be just to have somewhere quiet to chill out and chat to their mates, for others it will be exciting equipment to climb on or sports markings to have a game of football or netball. Younger children may prefer to take part in messy play or have some whiteboards to draw on, etc.

Getting this right means getting to know your pupils and asking them what they want.

4. What does the school want the playground for?

Today’s school playgrounds are multi-functional and help the school in many different ways. From a multi-functional point of view, they are used for breaktime play, outdoor classrooms, PE, outdoor eating areas, interschool sports matches, school fetes and various other purposes. Questioning what you want the playground to be used for can help you create a design that brings this extra functionality. Consider how creating a picnic area, for example, could ease the pressure of lunchtimes in those schools whose canteens lack seating capacity. Or how an outdoor classroom could help enrich the curriculum while freeing up space within the school for other purposes. For secondary schools in particular, equipping the playground with a MUGA could make it far easier for PE departments who are often deprived of their halls during the exam season.

The type of equipment installed in a playground can also help schools in other ways. Apparatus that inspires children to be physically active, such as climbing frames and Trim Trails, can improve physical health and mental wellbeing, helping to reduce obesity and enabling children to cope better with depression or anxiety. Physical activity can also boost mental alertness in lessons and reduce disruptive behaviour, while social play helps improve relationships within the school and nature areas help improve mood and provide a safe, calm environment for children who need quieter spaces.

5. Who is going to install the playground?

This is a vital question, as your choice will affect the design and quality of the finished project. One thing you should consider is whether your playground installation contractor has experience working with schools. There are many differences between school and public playgrounds and a school specialist, like ESP, understands the specific needs that schools have. At the same time, you want a company that provides the full package, from start to finish; a team that will design the playground with you, supply all the equipment and materials you need, build and install the playground and then provide the regular maintenance needed to ensure its ongoing safety and good working order.  Working this way helps keeps cost down and makes it easier to manage the project, enabling it to get completed quicker and with a more satisfactory outcome.

Conclusion

As you can see, there are many things to consider even before you start to design your playground upgrade. The questions here, obviously raise other questions themselves and answering these ensures that, at the end of the project, the playground you end up with ticks all the boxes.

For more information, visit our Inspiration page or if you want an informal chat, call us on 01282 43 44 45.

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