How to Make School Playgrounds Usable All Year Round

all year playground

Poor weather can have a very disruptive effect on the school day. When wet or wintery weather puts a stop to breaktimes, the lack of outdoor play means teachers don’t get their breaks, the pupils get irritable and find it hard to settle, and indoor play means classrooms get messy. The quality of learning and classroom behaviour can take a nosedive as a result. While extreme weather means you cannot guarantee keeping a playground open every day, there are things you can do to make the outdoor space more accessible all year round and cut the number of indoor playtimes.

In many cases, schools decide to cancel outdoor play not just because the weather is poor, but because the playground is not designed or equipped to keep children comfortable or safe when things take a turn for the worse. Here we’ll look at some of the things you can do to change this.

The importance of good surfacing

Great playground surfacing is the most important ingredient when creating a space that you want to be usable throughout the year. Schools often close playgrounds because of safety concerns due to slippery surfaces, but with the right surfacing in place, this can be reduced - as can puddles and mud.

While wet playgrounds increase the risk of slipping, installing playground surfacing that has proper drainage and which provides a superior grip on pupils’ footwear can reduce this. Improved drainage means surface water is soon dissipated and that large puddles don’t form. With less water on the surface and a surfacing type that provides a firmer footing, the chances of someone falling over are significantly reduced. Replacing asphalt with resin-bound gravel is one way to achieve this, though, for even greater safety, the ideal solution is wetpour surfacing.

Wetpour surfacing is made from 100% recycled tyres and not only provides the necessary grip to stop children sliding in wet conditions; it also provides cushioning so that if a fall does happen, the risk of injury is much reduced. This makes it ideal for all-year playgrounds and for installing under climbing equipment.

For grassed areas, there are two solutions. The simple and inexpensive way to stop grassed areas from turning into a quagmire and to make them usable in wet and wintery conditions is to install grass matting. This is a rubber mesh embedded into the surface that prevents the grass from being worn away and thus stops muddy patches from forming. Alternatively, you can install artificial grass that has superior drainage and where there is no soil directly underfoot to create any mud. Not only can this all-weather surface be used throughout the year; there’s the added benefit that it doesn’t need regular mowing, reseeding or feeding.

Provide shelter

Another reason schools stop children playing out is to protect them from cold, wind and heavy rain. In most cases, warm, waterproof clothing and suitable footwear are all that is needed for children to be happy and safe playing outside. However, you can make the playground more comfortable by adding shelter.

Replacing mesh fencing with a wooden alternative not only makes the playground look better; it provides shelter from cold winds and helps stop some of the rain. However, if you want to provide even greater protection and comfort, then the ideal solution would be an octagonal shelter. With a roof to keep out the rain, side panels to keep out the wind and seating for up to thirty children, this makes the perfect bolt-hole during inclement weather – and can be used all year round as an outdoor classroom.

There is a range of other solutions too. Play huts are ideal for small groups of children to hide away from the worst of the elements, sail shades protect from both the rain and the sun, and there is a wide selection of covered pergolas and other types of shelter available.

All-weather play equipment

If you are sending children out to play when it's cold and wet, they will still need things to do to keep them engaged. While you might not want them to use climbing equipment that gets slippery or get soaked going down a wet slide, there are still lots of things you can offer. Playground markings for football, netball and other sports enable children to participate in active games, as do fun marking for traditional playground games like hopscotch.

Children also love imaginative and creative play and, as they involve less running around, they are perhaps more suitable and safer activities in poor weather conditions. There is a wide range of imaginative play equipment to choose from, including outdoor musical instruments, mud kitchens, magnetic water walls, chalkboards, magnetic boards and whiteboards, outdoor stages and much more.

Conclusion

With the right surfacing and shelter, and a carefully curated selection of all-weather play equipment, schools can reduce the number of play and lunch breaks lost to poor weather. This eases the pressure on teaching staff and classroom assistants, reduces classroom disruption caused by children getting frustrated at being stuck indoors and stops classrooms from getting messy during indoor breaktimes.

For more information about our surfacing, shelters and playground equipment, visit our Products page.

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How to Make School Playgrounds Safer

Make School Playgrounds Safer

Kids will be kids and accidents happen - while there’s truth in these old sayings, it doesn’t mean a school can’t make a playground safer and minimise the risk of accident or injury. In this post, we look at a number of effective things schools can do to increase outdoor safety.

Reduce bullying by ending boredom

Bullying and the occasional fights that result because of it, is most likely to happen in the playground where supervision is limited and children are free to move around. According to a study commissioned by the Royal Bank of Scotland, there is a direct correlation between incidents of bullying and children having nothing to do during breaktimes. Upgrading a playground to provide greater opportunity for engaging play can have a dramatic impact. The Landscapes for Learning charity reported that schools that made improvements to outdoor facilities, like installing exciting, modern climbing frames, reduced bullying by almost 65% and saw vandalism fall by more than a quarter.

Manage space to minimise accidents

Poor use of space creates the potential for one playground activity to clash with another and cause unnecessary accidents. It's easy for a child chasing after a football, for example, to crash into someone playing with a skipping rope nearby. There are numerous other places where this can happen. The way to minimise the risk of accident and injury is to design the playground so that it has separate activity zones.

Placing physical activities involving climbing and running away from each other prevents those taking part from getting in each other’s way. Additionally, landscaping, fencing and pathways can be used to demarcate the zones and if needed, physically prevent children from getting from one zone to another unless via a safe, designated route that is out of harm’s way. You can even do this to keep older children away from younger ones. Stuck for what you can achieve with playground design? Visit our inspiration page.  

Playground essentials that prevent rulebreaking

While all schools and nurseries have playground rules designed to prevent people from getting hurt, sometimes the playground lacks facilities that encourage children to follow those rules. Steps, walls and windowsills, for example, are comfortable places to sit outdoors, so even if a school bans this on safety grounds, it is no surprise that some children will try to sit there, day after day, if there is nowhere else to go. And if there are no picnic tables or bins, children will eat where they can and leave litter that can be hazardous and attract vermin.

With adequate facilities installed, the children are less inclined to sit and eat where they shouldn’t or leave the place untidy. There is a wide range of playground seating available today, from simple benches and picnic tables to elaborate octagonal shelters, and it’s reasonably priced and long lasting too.

Safe playground surfacing

A lot of playground accidents occur because of issues with worn or unsuitable playground surfaces. Worn asphalt or tarmac can develop potholes or have loose stones that increase the risk of someone tripping up or falling; concrete flags used on many school pathways can easily suffer from treacherous black ice in winter, hard surfaces under climbing frames increase the potential for injury if someone falls; and grassy banks that look idyllic in the summer sunshine become slippery quagmires in the rain.

Thankfully, playground surfacing has advanced significantly in recent times and many of the risks associated with asphalt, tarmac and concrete can be eradicated. Resin-bound gravel is a superior, hard surface alternative as the resin reduces the potential for erosion or potholes. Meanwhile, block paving is less slippery in icy conditions, rubber mulch and wetpour provide cushioning to lessen the risk of injury from falling, and grass matting or artificial grass ensure green areas don’t become a hazardous mud bath.

Keep equipment in tip top condition

If you have playground equipment, keeping it in good condition and making sure it is in proper working order is essential to ensure that it is safe to play on. Outdoor play equipment naturally gets heavy use and, over time, will need some maintenance to keep it up to standard and to prolong its longevity.

To ensure your playground equipment complies with BS EN1176 and remains fit for purpose, you should check it regularly and have an annual playground inspection by a qualified RPII inspector. ESP Play provides an RPII playground inspection service.

Conclusion

Keeping children safe is the first priority for schools and this includes minimising the risk of bullying or injuries in the playground. Hopefully, from reading this article, you’ll have a better understanding of how this can be achieved.

For more information, visit our Products and Services page.

 

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How to Teach STEM in the Playground

Teaching STEM in the playground

When teachers think about teaching STEM subjects, (science, technology, engineering and maths) the playground is perhaps the last place they imagine delivering those lessons. However, STEM is about integrating those subjects and thinking out of the box, so perhaps it's time to reconsider the outdoor space as somewhere where children can get value from those subjects. Here are some of the reasons to teach STEM in the playground and the equipment you can use to help you.

STEM in the outdoor space

The great thing about being outdoors is that it provides far more space to conduct experiments and, in some cases, it’s by far the safest place to do them. If you really want to test how high those air propelled rockets your class has designed are going to reach, a room with an 8-feet high ceiling and shed loads of expensive equipment all around isn’t ideal. Indeed, any experiment that involves testing propulsion is best conducted where there is space to do so and where children can watch from a safe distance.

It's not just propulsion, either; there are occasions where STEM projects will require building big things, like towers or bridges that there simply isn’t room for inside the classroom. The playground, on the other hand, is perfect, especially if the teacher has resources like outdoor, standalone whiteboards, etc., to write instructions on and for children to note down the results of their experiments.

Make the most of nature

If you want to teach your pupils about natural sciences, then it's best to study things outdoors in their natural environment instead of bringing them inside. If pupils are studying how plants grow, their experiments aren’t going to be accurate if they are studying plants left on the windowsill in a classroom. Instead, provide them with a playground growing tree with enough room for everybody’s plants to grow in natural conditions, such as sunlight, heat, wind and rain. For more detailed analysis, why not use a discovery planter so they can see the formation of the roots as well as the upper part of the plant, and examine things like soil, water penetration and the creatures that live in the soil and affect the microenvironment.

You can also install bird feeders and bug houses, etc., for close examination of the fauna that lives in the local environment and to monitor their numbers and behaviour. It's an opportunity for real science that can complement the theoretical work going on in the classroom.

It’s not just biology that can be studied either. With a weather station, for example, pupils can monitor things like precipitation, air pressure, temperature, wind direction, etc. and study how weather changes over time and relate this to seasonal changes or the impact of global warming.

With a range of curriculum-focused, scientific, wall or post-mounted, switchable work boards to choose from, students are able, while in the playground, to measure and track changes, write down their discoveries and make connections between them.

Give maths a new dimension

While maths has enabled theoretical physicists to calculate numerous dimensions, school maths can be a rather one-dimensional subject. For many children, the biggest challenge is not the difficulty of the work but the continual book and pen exercises. Getting outside into the playground can help them break the cycle of doing things in a book and give them a new and more engaging way to explore the subject. What’s more, you can use the outside world to contextualise the exercises being done, asking them to calculate real-life things so that they have genuine meaning.

There is also a whole range of maths resources that can be installed in the playground to help. These include tessellation and coordinates boards, tangram tables, symmetry boards and soma cubes. If you want to get even more adventurous, there are playground dominoes games and even a traversing wall that is designed for following sequences or calculations.

When it comes to design and technology, there are also outdoor classroom work boards for weaving and isometric drawing.

Conclusion

In a world where science and technology are so important, it is vital to inspire young minds to develop an interest in STEM subjects. Working outdoors frees up the mind to new ideas and provides a whole lot more for students to explore and experiment on. Now, with lots of new STEM-based outdoor curriculum equipment available to schools, teaching STEM has never been easier.

For more information about our outdoor STEM products, visit our Outdoor Curriculum page.

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Inspire the Next Olympians With Playground Sports Equipment

Children's wellbeing

Big sporting events, like the Tokyo Olympic Games, lead many youngsters to dream of being a world-class sportsperson. While few will achieve those dizzy heights, many others will be inspired to take part, finding a life-long passion for sport and adopting a healthier lifestyle in the process. To keep those dreams alive, schools need to provide children with the opportunity to take part. With that in mind, here are some of the best playground sports equipment available today.

Sports surfacing

Providing opportunities to take part in playground sports, whether in PE lessons or during play, starts with great surfacing. Replacing tired, asphalt surfaces that are worn and patchy with resin-bound gravel makes them easier and safer to play on. For sports that require grass surfacing, such as soccer, rugby, lawn tennis and so forth, moving to artificial grass can make life so much easier. Artificial grass doesn’t need cutting or weeding, it doesn’t get boggy and slippery in wet weather and it doesn’t dry out and go patchy in the summer. It stays perfect to do sports all year round, ensuring learning and training can continue uninterrupted.

Sports markings

Inexpensive, long-lasting and quick and easy to install, sports markings can transform a blank playground surface into a range of clearly marked out sports pitches, courts and training areas that can be used for both PE and play.

There are a variety of pitch and court markings, including those for football, netball, tennis, rounders and cricket. For those with smaller playground spaces, you can even have a multi-court, where different colours are used to create different pitches in the same space. You can even get multi-sport accessories to match, such as a football goal with a basketball net attached.

As for training, there are a wide variety of multi-skills markings available, including fast-feet steppers, target trainers, grid squares and even a purpose-built multi-skill zone.

Create your own MUGA

A dedicated Multi-Use Games Area or MUGA can transform your sports facilities, expanding your PE and extracurricular provision and providing children with far more opportunities to learn and take part in new sports.

If you are looking to create a MUGA, the team at ESP Play can help you design one that meets your needs. We’ll help you choose the best place to locate the area at your school and how to arrange things within the space to fulfil your requirements. We’ll help find the right solutions for surfacing and marking and explain the best accessory equipment to ensure you fully equip your outdoor sports facilities, for example, with things like ball walls, multi goals, wall targets, fitness markings and so forth.

Outdoor gyms

Whether you’re looking to inspire the next Olympic weightlifting champion or just want to give children the opportunity to increase their strength and fitness, the AllGo+ Gym is the ideal playground solution. With children lifting nothing more than their own body weight, it is safe enough for school use but provides a full suite of fitness equipment to enhance the development of every muscle group in the body.

Self-contained within its own, attractive octagonal area, professionally surfaced and laid out, it provides gym equipment that can be used widely in PE and even during supervised playtimes. Suitable for pupils over 1.4m (4ft. 6) tall, the gym includes pull-up bars, monkey bars, multi-height circle steps and press-up bars, level and inclined sit-up benches, step-ups, leg raisers and fitness markings for agility and balance. For health and safety purposes, every element is labelled and displays clear instructions about the exercises it is to be used for and the correct and safe way to do them.

A Daily Mile track

A British initiative, the Daily Mile has been taken up by over 12,000 schools in 84 countries and now has over 3 million children running, walking and wheel-chairing a mile every day. Designed to improve general health, fitness and wellbeing, as well as tackle issues like childhood obesity, it’s also inspired many youngsters to take up long distance sports. Who knows, the next David Weir, Mo Farah or Paula Radcliffe could be amongst them?

With many schools not having enough space for a full-length daily mile route, the solution of choice for many is to install a Daily Mile track that they can do laps of around the school. Providing a suitable track surface ensures that all members of the school community can take part, including wheelchair users, while providing the ideal training conditions for those who want to take the sport more seriously.

Conclusion

The UK has a long tradition of producing world-class sportspeople and for this to continue, the children of today need the inspiration and opportunities to take part in a wider range of sports activities. Equipping your playground ensures this can happen while also enabling everyone to participate in healthy activities.

For more information about ESP Play outdoor sports equipment and more, visit our Products page.

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5 Things To Do With School Playgrounds in Summer Holidays

Children's wellbeing

With only a few weeks left of the school year, minds will be focussed on the much-needed holiday and in making plans for September. The summer break, however, is the ideal time to work on the school playground. With no children around for weeks on end, there is plenty of opportunity to carry out essential work and make improvements. You can also put your playground to good use during summer, too. Here, we’ll look at some of the options.

1. Inspect playground equipment

School playgrounds should have an annual RPII inspection to ensure that all their playground equipment and surfacing are safe to use and fit for purpose. The best time to get this done is at the beginning of the summer holidays; this way, if any remedial work is necessary, you have the time to get it completed before the children arrive back in school.

Annual inspections not only ensure that equipment is safe; they also extend equipment and surfacing lifespans. A minor repair now can prevent more extensive and potentially costly repair or replacement bills further down the line.

ESP Play Inspection Services are carried out by a fully qualified RPII inspector who will examine your playground to ensure it complies with BS EN 1176. We provide a detailed report about the condition of your playground and each piece of equipment and, where necessary, we will make recommendations about maintenance to ensure safety and to comply with standards.

2. Replace tired equipment

No matter how well you look after your surfacing and equipment, heavy use and weathering mean eventually they will need replacing. At the same time, apparatus that begins to look old and tired can lose its appeal to children and seldom get used anymore.

If you have such equipment in your playground, the summer break is the perfect time to get it replaced so that your new pieces are ready for your pupils as they return in September. What better way to kick off the academic year than to give the kids something new and exciting to play on? And with fantastic playground equipment being added to our collection all the time, ESP Play has everything you need.

3. Look after nature areas

While nature can usually take care of itself over the summer holidays, anything in planters will need regular watering, especially if there are long periods without rain -  otherwise, those expensive plants might die off.

Similarly, lawns, sports fields and grassed playing areas might need an occasional sprinkling and a lawn feed to keep the grass green and lush. Before children return, grassed sports and playing areas will also need mowing to ensure that surfaces are suitable for play and that any potentially harmful litter (e.g., glass) hidden in the long grass can be spotted and removed.

If the maintenance of grassed play areas is becoming a burden, it is always possible to replace these with artificial grass – an alternative that stays green, never needs mowing and which looks just as good as the real thing.

4. Repair or replace surfacing

After the frosts of winter and the heavy spring rain, older playground surfacing can need repair or in the worst cases, replacing altogether. Repairing or replacing a playground surface is best done when the weather is fine and, as it means putting it temporarily out of action, when no one is going to be using it for a while. The summer holidays make this the ideal time.

Repairing potholes, fraying edges, loose stones and raised slabs quickly prevents more extensive deterioration later on – something caused by both heavy use and weathering. Failure to tackle these can also make your playground hazardous for use and lead to injury.

If your surfaces need replacing, it might be the right time to consider newer types of surfacing. Resin-bound gravel is a superior alternative to asphalt or tarmac, being long-lasting, self-draining, low-maintenance and available in different colours. Wetpour surfacing, meanwhile, has become highly popular in EYFS and primary playgrounds because its fall-cushioning properties help reduce bumps, bruises and broken bones.

5. Open your playground during the holidays

Children have had little opportunity for outdoor play during the pandemic and this has had an impact on their mental health. Away from their friends for another six weeks during summer, access to a playground could play a vital role in improving their wellbeing. Unfortunately, at the time they need it most, many public playgrounds are being closed because local councils don’t have the finances to maintain them.

While it’s possibly not feasible to open playgrounds to the public in general, there are many local childcare providers, summer activity clubs, etc., that would jump at the chance to use them at certain times of the day or week. This way, the playground would be used by professionals who could ensure school property was treated respectfully and that the small numbers of children using the equipment would be supervised. It may even be a way to earn a little extra cash for the school.

Conclusion

With six weeks of downtime, the summer holidays offer schools the potential to inspect, maintain, repair and even update their playgrounds. At the same time, with children needing a safe and well-equipped place for outdoor play, there is the opportunity to help your pupils and children from the wider local community make the most of the summer break.

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

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