Outdoor Classrooms – A Breath of Fresh Air for Post-Lockdown Schools

outdoor classrooms

The long-awaited return to school has now commenced and staff and pupils across the country are facing school days which are radically different to those they remember. The need to prevent the spread of COVID-19 will place many restrictions on schools, impacting not only the delivery of the curriculum but on school life as a whole. An outdoor classroom can make a big difference, providing a safer learning environment in which children can experience a little bit of normality. Here, we’ll take a closer look at modern, outdoor classrooms.

Why schools need outdoor classrooms

Life in the post-lockdown school is going to be far different than what it was before the pandemic. Movement will be severely restricted, both within the school itself and inside the classroom. In secondary schools, where pupils are used to moving from lesson to lesson, many will now find it is the teachers who move while the children stay put. Not only will this prevent pupils from having access to the specialist equipment needed to study the curriculum effectively; it also means they’ll spend most of the day stuck in the same room. And with social distancing essential within the classroom, children of all school ages will have far fewer opportunities to move around or interact.

The effects of this upon pupil wellbeing and academic progress could be significant. Children are much more likely to become anxious about going to school and frustrated, even bored, during the school day. This can impact their mental wellbeing and impede their motivation, especially when the lack of subject-specific equipment, like science or technology apparatus that can’t be moved from classroom to classroom, prevents teachers delivering the curriculum properly.

In such a stifling environment, the outdoor classroom offers a breath of fresh air. Indeed, the circulation of outdoor air, combined with the additional space pupils have to learn, means many of the restrictions enforced inside the classroom can be relaxed. Movement will be freer, with children able to work in small groups more effectively, perhaps carrying out more experimental and investigative work that the new normal won’t permit indoors. The need to keep voices quiet will not be so urgent, either.

At the same time, just taking a break from the same indoor space, even if it is just for a small part of the school day, can break the monotony of being at the same desk, in the same classroom, six hours a day, five days a week. It offers the potential for increased mental stimulation, improved motivation and better wellbeing.

Equipping the modern outdoor classroom

While there is nothing wrong with getting pupils to hoick their chairs out into the playground for a lesson, there are plenty of more modern and stimulating alternatives. Today, there is a plethora of outdoor learning equipment available, including subject-specific resources covering many areas of the EYFS, primary and secondary curricula.

Starting with the basics, playground seating comes in a wide variety, ranging from fun mushroom seats and storytelling chairs for younger learners to full-class size, octagonal shelters with built-in seats, whiteboards, windbreaking backrests and that essential roof that lets you use it in most weather conditions. This, however, is only scratching the surface; there are tables, benches, amphitheatres, handwriting tables, sit down easels and much more available.

When it comes to delivering the curriculum, there is a multitude of outdoor classroom equipment available for teachers to use. This includes interchangeable, subject-specific work panels, affixed to permanent posts, that cater for almost every curriculum area. Able to be taken down at the end of each lesson for cleaning and storage, with the post then left for the next teacher, they are an ideal solution for outdoor learning. They can be used to display learning objectives and instructions or for pupils to write, draw, measure, calculate and take notes. Subject-specific versions are available for art, design and technology, English, geography, history, maths, MFL, music, PE and science, and include features such as abacuses, coordinate grids, timelines, moving clock faces and much more.

There are also more elaborate types of equipment, such as weather stations for measuring and monitoring precipitation, temperature and wind, or biology investigation tables that can be used to look at soil samples and see how plant root systems grow underground. When it comes to music and drama, there are outdoor stages to perform on, amphitheatres to perform within and fun, outdoor, percussion instruments, like xylophones and drainpipe drums, to make music with.

Conclusion

An outdoor classroom offers a touch of normality to post-lockdown school life. Working in a safer outdoor environment with fewer restrictions and much more space to learn can bring much-needed relief from the monotony of being stuck in the same space. As a result, it can improve pupil wellbeing and motivation and, when well-equipped with subject-specific, outdoor classroom equipment, gives teachers far more scope to deliver the curriculum.

For more information, visit our Outdoor Curriculum page.

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Why Zoned School Playgrounds Have New Importance

zoned school playgrounds

Zoned school playgrounds have become increasingly popular in modern playground design, providing a range of benefits for pupils and schools alike. However, following the lockdown, they have taken on new importance, providing enhanced social distancing and increased safety. Here, we’ll look at zoned playgrounds and their advantages over traditional schoolyards.

What are zoned school playgrounds?

A zoned playground, quite simply, is a school playground where the equipment provided for the children is laid out in discrete activity areas, strategically placed to improve safety and enhance amenity.

Zones can be created for different types of pupil or activity. So, for example, a school can have different zones for EYFS, KS1 and KS2 pupils, each with age-appropriate equipment, or it can create separate zones for sports, climbing, roleplay, creativity, nature, sensory play and so forth.

Built-in safety

One of the key problems with traditional playgrounds is that activities often overlap and this can lead to potential safety issues, such as footballs flying off the pitch and knocking a pupil off a climbing wall or a pupil with skipping ropes tripping up someone playing tig in the same area. By putting these activities into separate zones, you reduce the risk of these accidents happening – especially when the designer can make sure that potentially hazardous zones are located away from each other.

Covid-19 safety

With the need to maintain social distancing in the playground, zoned play areas have developed new importance, as they enable the school to better manage pupil bubbles. Children in different bubbles can be allocated a different zone in which to play and because it is within a defined area, children will better understand the limits of where they can play and the apparatus they are allowed to play on. This also makes the job of supervising much easier for staff and enables pupils from each bubble to enter and leave the playground more safely.

To ensure pupils get to participate in the full range of playground activities on offer, schools can rotate the bubbles from zone to zone on different days, making sure, of course, that the equipment is properly cleaned at the end of each day. Where there are staggered playtimes, cleaning will need to take place between the change-over.

The other advantage is that popular apparatus, such as climbing frames, obstacle courses and play towers, can be a temptation too much for children. If everyone heads for the same piece of equipment, social distancing goes out the window. Zoning prevents this happening, as children will know which zone they are allocated to and, if rotation is in place, will know they’ll get their turn eventually.

Zones for inclusion

One of the other major benefits of having a zoned school playground is that it can improve inclusivity. At the design stage, schools have the ability to consider the type of equipment they need to ensure pupils of all ages, abilities and interests are catered for. The playground designer can then use this to create purpose-built zones that address those needs and place them in the most appropriate location. For example, a quiet area can be developed for children with autism and placed away from the louder and busier activity zones, perhaps even with its own entrance back into the school building. Sensory areas can be created too, giving pupils a calm space in which to experience a variety of sounds, smells, textures and colours.

Similarly, sporty kids can be given zones with pitch markings and basketball nets and thrill-seekers can have zones containing Trim Trails obstacle courses, Tangled rope climbing equipment or a Freeflow climbing system. You can have messy play areas with mud kitchens, sandpits and magnetic water walls, imaginative roleplay zones with fantasy play towers, wigwams and pirate style playboats and creative zones with outdoor drawing boards, performance stages and outdoor musical percussion instruments.

For the more laid back pupils, you can even create a nature zone with planters, trellises and bug houses and furnish it with picnic tables, an octagonal shelter or some all-weather artificial grass to sit on and chat with friends.

Not only does zoning enable schools to cater for all these different needs and interests; it also allows the designer to make them more accessible. Safe pathways can be created to ensure all pupils, including wheelchair users, can easily get to all the apparatus without having to risk travelling through a busy space; while accessibility features can be built in so pupils, even if they cannot fully participate in activities or make full use of the equipment, are close enough not to feel socially excluded from their friendship group.

Conclusion

Zoned school playgrounds can transform a school’s outdoor space. They improve safety, assist with social distancing and provide schools with the opportunity to create accessible zones that cater for the needs and interests of all pupils.

To see what you can achieve with a zoned playground or to find out more about playground design, visit our Inspiration page.

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What makes a good school playground?

What makes a good school playground?

The footprint of a school playground is frequently larger than that of the school itself. Only recently, however, have schools begun to realise the enormous potential that these incredible spaces have to offer. From our experience of designing and installing playgrounds across the country, here are what we consider to be the things that make a good school playground in the 2020s.

Safety

Child safety is an essential ingredient of a good school playground and should always be the primary concern when upgrading. Best practice begins with your choice of playground contractor. Always choose a playground specialsit with lots of experience working with schools and which provides not just high-quality products and first-class installation, but also offers regular inspections and maintenance to keep the playground safe.

Other important considerations include dividing the playground into areas for children of different ages, for example, giving nursery pupils their own space away from the bigger children in Key Stages 1 and 2. The installation of modern playground surfaces, such as rubber mulch and wet pour surfacing, is also important because it reduces the chance of injury, especially when used around climbing apparatus. Finally, consider the use of activity zones, which prevent one form of activity interfering with another and potentially causing harm.

Accessibility and inclusivity

Every child should be able to access and benefit from a school’s outdoor space and it’s important to consider this at the outset of the design phase. Appropriate surfacing needs to be installed with pathways wide enough for wheelchairs and assisted movement.

Where possible, apparatus should allow disabled access or be adapted to assist with this, for example, providing ramps and rails that let those with disabilities play with their friends on the equipment. Even simple things, like picnic tables that are designed for wheelchairs to fit under, can make a great deal of difference.

Finally, you need to consider a range of play equipment that meets the needs of all and appeals to everyone’s interests. This is where zoning comes into its own, as it enables you to have discrete zones for things like sports, climbing, creativity, roleplay, sensory play and messy play (mud, sand and water), as well as quiet, nature zones.

A good school playground can be used all year round

While you cannot control the seasons or the weather, there are quite a few things you can do to make your outdoor spaces usable throughout the year. The use of slip-resistant and self-draining playground surfacing can make your outdoor area safe and usable in wet and cold weather, while artificial grass can be used all year round and grass matting prevents natural lawns becoming a slippery quagmire.

The installation of trellises and the planting of shrubs not only adds a touch of greenery but if put in the right places, can provide shelter from biting winds. Octagonal shelters, with built-in seating, can accommodate a classful of pupils in wet, windy and overly sunny conditions. Verandas and sun sails can do the same.

A place for learning and fun

While play is an essential part of the learning process for children, a good school playground is also a place to deliver much more of the curriculum. While MUGA, gym, pitch markings, multi-skills zone and sports equipment are some of the many PE options, today, there are outdoor resources for many subject areas. Schools can install storytelling circles, science investigation tables, weather measuring centres, plant growing equipment, outdoor musical instruments, playground stages and much more. There is subject-specific equipment, purpose-built for outdoor use, for maths, English, science, art, music, design and technology, geography, history and languages.

Creating an outdoor classroom means less demand for internal space and provides teachers and pupils with a completely different learning environment, one where there is the space to take part in active learning and the freedom to explore the world around them.

A playground for health and wellbeing

Children’s physical and mental wellbeing is a key issue at the moment: 12.5 per cent of UK pupils aged 5 to 18 suffer from a mental disorder and instances of childhood obesity continue to rise. While physical activity has been shown to have a positive effect on both mental and physical health, modern lifestyles mean children have little opportunity to get the recommended hour a day that health professionals say they need.

By choosing the right type of playground equipment, schools not only facilitate physical activity; they encourage pupils to increase participation. This makes pupils more active in the short term and helps them develop healthier lifestyles over the long term. What’s more, it can help those with mental disorders like depression and anxiety cope better with their illnesses while potentially preventing others from developing disorders at all.

When planning a school playground, its impact on the physical and mental wellbeing of pupils should be taken into consideration. Sports, climbing and obstacle course activities are not only great fun, they require lots of physical exertion. At the same time, quiet nature areas are ideal for those who need some respite during the school day.

Conclusion

As you can see from this post, playgrounds can become highly valuable resources for schools, enabling pupils to have fun, socialise, learn and improve their health and wellbeing. Hopefully, the ideas mentioned here will inspire you to create the perfect outdoor space for your pupils.

For more ideas, visit our products page.

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School Playground Covid-19 Guidance for New Academic Year

Covid-19 guidance for playgrounds

The Covid-19 pandemic means significant changes for schools and nurseries reopening in September. Not only will this affect what goes on in the building but it will also impact the use of the playground, particularly where shared playground equipment, like climbing frames, play towers and sand pits are installed. Here, we’ll look at the latest government advice on what schools should be doing to keep their playgrounds safe in the new academic year.

The government’s guidance is for the governing bodies of schools and academy trusts that provide playgrounds with shared play equipment or outdoor gyms. While schools have to comply with existing health and safety legislation, the new guidance is non-statutory. This is because each school will have different circumstances and their playgrounds will have different layouts and equipment. However, schools will need to implement processes that protect people who use, clean and maintain their outdoor equipment.

Covid-19 risk assessment

Before playgrounds are allowed to be used, schools must first undertake a Covid-19 risk assessment. According to the government, this must be done in consultation with unions or, where representation isn’t in place, with the staff.

To ensure compliance with existing health and safety legislation, the assessment must examine the risk of potential Covid-19 transmission for anyone who uses the equipment, including pupils, teachers, teaching assistants and playground supervisors, as well as any cleaning and maintenance staff or those from third parties. The governing body’s responsibility is to “do everything reasonably practicable” to minimise risk.

Social distancing

Social distancing remains one of the government’s key strategies to reduce the spread of Coronavirus and this currently requires people to keep 2 metres apart or 1 metre with risk mitigations. The government recognises, however, that maintaining social distancing can be challenging in a playground setting and that schools will need to implement additional measures.

One option is to limit the number of pupils and staff who have access to the playground at any one time, perhaps adjusting the school timetable to put this in place. In addition, further social distancing can be implemented by limiting the number of pupils using a specific piece of equipment or reducing the length of time they can play on it.

Further measures include using signs to communicate the maximum number of users, increasing supervision to ensure pupils follow instructions, implementing a one-way travel route around the playground and between equipment and, where pieces of equipment are less than 2 metres apart, temporarily shutting one down.

Cleaning and hygiene

The cleaning of equipment is vital to prevent the spread of the virus, especially if it is being used by different pupil bubbles throughout the day. Schools are advised to clean busy touchpoints frequently. This includes equipment such as climbing frames, slides, play towers, play huts, crawl tunnels, exercise bars, gym equipment, gates, benches, picnic tables and bins.

If pupils are grouped into bubbles, cleaning is most effective if done after each bubble has left the playground and before the next bubble arrives. Cleaning products should be those which are effective against the virus but which do not pose injury or harm to users.

Face coverings

Under current Covid-19 guidance, face coverings are only required in enclosed public spaces and only for children under 11. While Schools Minister, Nick Gibb, said pupils over 11 will be expected to wear them on school buses and moving around school buildings, they are not required in classrooms as other protective measures are being introduced.

As playgrounds are not enclosed spaces, there is no current requirement for children over 11 to wear a mask. However, if social distancing is difficult to maintain when using playground equipment, it is an option that schools could consider.

Other considerations

Besides the guidance given above, other advice includes using playground posters and signage to remind pupils and staff of the school’s procedures and of general COVID protection advice; placing sanitising stations next to equipment and at entrances; providing more waste bins and increasing the frequency of rubbish collections, and banning the consumption of food or drink in the playground or on play equipment.

SEND pupils

The government has also issued advice on how schools should help pupils with additional needs in playground environments. For example, they may need more frequent reminders about new rules or require assistance moving between apparatus or carrying out hygiene regimes.

Conclusion

The new normal in schools is going to take a great deal of adjustment for pupils and staff alike in September. Being able to participate in play is vital to help children acclimatise to the new setup and begin to socialise again after months of lockdown. Hopefully, the advice given by the government and summarised here will help you provide a safe and inviting playground for your pupils. For more information, visit the government’s outdoor playground and gym guidance page.

For more information about our products, visit our Products Page.

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5 Things to Consider Before Upgrading a School Playground

Primary pupils

While all playgrounds eventually come to a stage where they need a revamp, how you develop the space moving forward is something that requires a lot of thought. Modern playgrounds need to fulfil several important functions and meet the needs of your pupils. To help you better understand the process, here are some questions to consider before upgrading a school playground.

1. Does your current playground cater for all pupils?

A playground should be for all the children in your school; however, it is easy for those on duty to spot those who make active use of it and those who do not. Before planning your improvements, it is important to find out why some children don’t get involved and what you can do to make it better for them.

You may find that some features of your playground are not suitable for all ages, for example, younger children may be too small to use the climbing equipment. It may not suit all interests; there could be too many sports markings and little space for those who prefer imaginative or creative activities. There may be equipment that children queue up to use because there isn’t enough of it and other pieces which stand idle because no-one enjoys playing on it anymore.

The only way to find out how the playground can work for everyone is to talk to the children and ask them what equipment or features they would make use of. This way, your new playground will provide facilities for everyone.

2. Is your playground inclusive?

While some children may choose not to play, others find themselves prevented from joining in. Children with disabilities, particularly wheelchair users, might find it difficult to move around the space because of inadequate surfacing or narrow pathways. They may also find themselves left alone while their friends are playing on equipment that hasn’t been adapted to give them access. Some are even left unable to sit around a picnic table with their friends because it hasn’t been designed for wheelchairs to fit underneath.

Children with other needs may also feel excluded; those with autism, for example, might find the playground too noisy or busy to feel comfortable and would prefer it if there was a quiet, outdoor space to retreat to during break times.

Again, talking to these pupils and their parents, together with careful scrutiny of your existing space can help ensure that any redevelopment results in an inclusive playground that is accessible by everybody.

3. Is your playground safe?

Before you can consider adding shiny new features to your playground, one of your key priorities will be to address any safety issues that are currently there. These can include broken or damaged pieces of equipment, degraded surfacing, uneven pathways, warn or loose steps, splintering wooden mulch and so forth, which may need replacing or repair.

You will also have to consider the additional safety features needed for your new playground, for example, putting wetpour surfacing underneath climbing equipment to absorb impact and reduce the likelihood of serious injury.

4. Does the playground address children’s needs?

Playgrounds are just as much for learning as recreation and there needs to be a range of equipment that can help with the development of a wide range of skills, including communication, problem-solving, social interaction, risk-taking and resilience. Similarly, there needs to be the opportunity to take part in physical activity and to encourage the adoption of healthy lifestyles. This can mean installing sports and climbing equipment or even a nature area for mental wellbeing. You may also want to develop the playground so it can be used as an outdoor classroom or provide learning continuity between indoor and outdoor spaces.

5. Upgrading a school playground - financial questions

Finally, once you have considered all the above aspects, you’ll need to look at the finances you have available. Upgrading a playground can be expensive and with school budgets getting tighter, the money for the project, or at least some of it, often comes from fundraising or a grant. Schools will need to see what capacity there is in the school budget to contribute towards the project as well as looking at what grants are available (we can help you with this) and how much can be raised through PTA events and similar activities. Only once you have a budget can you plan the scale of your development.

Conclusion

Modern playgrounds have to tick a lot of boxes to be fit for purpose. They need to engage all pupils, be inclusive and accessible, be safe to use and ensure that children’s physical, emotional and educational needs are catered for. Putting these things in place when upgrading a school playground ensures that your investment and the time and effort that goes into raising the funds is worthwhile.

If you need advice about upgrading a school playground, call us on 01282 43 44 45 or visit our homepage to find out more about our products and playground design and installation services.

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