Practical Solutions for SEND Friendly Playgrounds

Pupils with special educational needs and disabilities (SEND) can lose out at school if the outdoor amenities aren't inclusive. Although every school has to provide access to the playground, once outside, SEND pupils can easily become isolated and often have fewer things to to engage them. In this post, we’ll look at some practical solutions that can transform your playground for these children.

literacy and phonics

Why outdoor learning and play are so beneficial for SEND pupils

SEND children face more barriers than other children when developing key learning skills. The lack of space indoors can restrict them in classrooms and for some, a crowded and busy classroom can be too unsettling for them to learn. Supporting them with a well-designed and well-equipped outdoor environment means they have more space and, if needed, quieter areas, where they can better take on the challenges that will help them develop and progress.

Regular outdoor play helps SEND pupils to lead happier and healthier lives. It encourages them to try new challenges, take safe risks and make mistakes – all activities that help them become, resilient, confident and independent. At the same time, the less structured nature of the outdoor playground exposes them, in a safe setting, to the unpredictable and all the lessons that teaches.

The importance of playground design for SEND pupils

Design plays a fundamental role in making school playgrounds inclusive for SEND children. One of the main focuses should be on creating discrete zones, each designed to cater for specific kinds of activity. At the same time, you need to develop a layout that enables pupils of all abilities to move easily and safely from one zone to another.

There are many factors to consider when designing such a playground. These include the kinds of equipment you wish to install, where to place the zones so as to encourage play, how to ensure everyone has physical and emotional access, providing enough space for children to play and wheelchairs to manoeuvre and, importantly, making sure the playground is safe.

For those who need quiet spaces, it’s usually a good idea to locate these near the entrance to the playground. This way, less confident children don’t see going outside as a big ordeal and can quickly go back in if they feel uncomfortable.

Aside from the zones and the equipment you use, other important design features of a SEND friendly playground include the type of surfacing you use for each zone and their interconnecting pathways and whether you introduce fences, trellises or planters to screen areas off from each other. These can be installed for safety reasons, to reduce noise, to make areas more private or simply for improving the aesthetic of the environment.

Encouraging physical activity

Although some SEND children will face challenges taking part in certain types of physical activity, all of them should have access to activities that are appropriate for them. Not only do they need this to improve overall fitness and develop skills like coordination and spatial awareness, being unable to take part prevents them benefitting from its important social aspects. Participating in games and sports helps all pupils, including those with SEND, to learn about teamwork, social interaction and following rules. Installing appropriate playground and PE equipment and safe surfacing, like wetpour and artificial grass, can help make physical activity far more inclusive and prevent SEND pupils being isolated from their peers.

Physical activity doesn’t just have to come from structured activities either. Free play on equipment where they can have fun while learning to improve balance and mobility can be just as beneficial and rewarding.

Sensory stimulation and imaginative play

literacy and phonics

Sensory activities and imaginative play are important for SEND children’s development and creating a playground that offers an array of these experiences can make a big difference. Many schools opt to create a calming sensory zone, away from the more boisterous areas of the playground, which is built to stimulate a child’s curiosity. These can include things like body warping mirrors, sand and water play, bughouses, planters, outdoor musical instruments and a wide range of other resources to touch, see, smell and hear.

Imaginative play can come in many forms. Imaginative zones can include quiet areas to sit and listen to a story, somewhere to draw, paint or colour, exciting equipment that can inspire role play, such as a sit-on train or wooden shop counter or even themed climbing towers that create magical, made-up worlds with forests and castles.

Getting in touch with nature

A school nature area can bring lots of benefits for all pupils but for SEND pupils who need quiet, calm spaces it can be a haven. Even if you don’t have the luxury of a school garden, you can create a nature area with planters and trellises and encourage wildlife to move in with bug houses, butterfly boxes and bird tables. You can also use the planters, digging pits and growing boxes to engage the pupils in gardening activities and even use investigation tables to learn about the things they discover.

Conclusion

A well designed and equipped school playground, built to meet the needs of SEND pupils, can make your school much more inclusive. SEND pupils will be able to take part in more activities with other students and have specific areas or zones that help them develop and achieve in the most appropriate ways.

For more information visit our Special Needs page.

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6 Key Learning Skills That Can Be Developed by Outdoor Play

As teachers, we know that children who develop key skills such as critical thinking or the ability to work with others, progress quicker, achieve more and attain better grades than their peers. However, with curriculum activities taking up much of the timetable, it’s hard to squeeze in the extra hours needed to practice and hone these skills. Thankfully, this area of learning is not confined to the classroom and with the right outdoor play resources in place, children can develop the skills during free time and in outdoor lessons.

In this post, we’ll look at six key skills that can be developed through outdoor play.

1. Working with others

There will be many times during a student’s school career when working with others will play an essential part in helping them learn. Group work and collaborative learning are key aspects of today’s classroom environment and those children who have the skills to work with other students perform better, learn more and progress quicker.

There are a number of ways you can help students develop these skills in the playground. A Team Adventure Zone, for example, is a trim trail with a difference: it’s an obstacle course designed for children to complete as a team. In order to successfully get from one end to the other, they will need to work together. This is great playground equipment to help students develop their collaborative skills whilst having lots of fun at the same time. It’s a good resource for developing critical thinking, too.

2. Creative thinking

When it comes to getting children thinking creatively it is often better to give them unstructured time in a safe environment where they have the freedom to think outside of the box. To do it right, you also need to provide the resources to motivate them and there is a lot of playground equipment that does just that.

There’s opportunity for drawing with our outdoor art and design boards or making music with our fabulous range of fixed, outdoor musical instruments. For the more dramatically minded, we’ve also got a range stages where children can rehearse and perform to fellow students. All these can be used to inspire children to engage in and develop creative thinking during break times or as part of an outdoor lesson.

3. Being personally effective

The term ‘being personally effective’ encompasses a range of skills which are useful for helping children have a more mature attitude towards learning – the ability to set goals, take on challenges, divide larger projects into smaller steps, be resilient and experience achievement.

Once again, there are a lot of these skills which can be developed through outdoor play and, with some clever playground planning from the school, these opportunities can be given. For example, climbing and traversing walls built over safe playground flooring, give children the chance to set themselves new goals and challenges. To meet those challenges, they will need to break the larger climb down into smaller steps and they’ll need to develop resilience before they finally succeed. The same skills can be learned on a whole range of kids’ climbing equipment.

4. Communication skills

Developing good communication skills is vital for a successful learning journey and needs to start at a very young age. One of the best ways to get the process started is through roleplay where children can experiment with communicating in a range imagined scenarios.

Children are good at inventing roleplay but it works best when they are provided with the props and set that can be the inspiration for their made-up worlds. Here at ESP Play, we have a wide selection of roleplay playground equipment to prompt every child into action. These include stages, storytelling chairs, play huts, bridges, a carriage and even a wooden train.  

5. Maths

Maths is an essential key skill that children will continue to work on throughout their school years but many children do struggle. Sometimes it can be helpful to learn in a more playful way, outside of the classroom.

One of the best ways to provide this opportunity is to install outdoor maths equipment in your playground. There is equipment which can be used for teacher-led outdoor lessons covering everything from simple number work to tessellation. There are also many fun maths games like battle boards, dominoes and Soma cubes that children can use during break times.

6. English

Just like maths, English is another vital key skill and there is also a selection of outdoor English resources which encourage children to continue their learning beyond lesson times. Covering handwriting and creative writing, these can be used to let children write for fun during free time or can be used for group, paired and individual work during lessons.

Conclusion

Key skills remove many of the barriers to learning faced by children and developing them can help pupils succeed across the entire curriculum. However, not all these skills need to be taught and practiced in the classroom. Using our school playground equipment, you can encourage pupils to learn organically, through play and whilst having fun.

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Another teacher joins the ESP Play team…

We have added another teacher to our education team to help continue to strengthen the educational benefits Play and Physical Activity can bring to schools.

Here’s what Rob Whitelock had to say about why he joined ESP Play:

I am passionate about learning – 18 years in the classroom plays testimony to that and having worked closely with key protagonists in the play and sport movement, I’m equally passionate about how play and sport can help the progress and achievement of every child.  I’ve seen it – it can – it does!  I want to use every opportunity to share my experience with schools so they are best placed to enjoy the benefits play and sport can bring to all children.

Every school has a duty of care to every one of its children. With safeguarding at the top of the OFSTED agenda, schools need to be sure they are providing the best opportunities for their children in a safe and secure setting. The School Sport Premium gives every school the chance to invest in the well-being of its children but is it being used effectively? OFSTED will make a judgement on a schools use of its SSP so is it worth leaving it to chance? Many schools ‘buy in’ specialist support to deliver physical activity, which is great while the SSP is in place but expensive and not sustainable when the funding ends. Many schools don’t realise the most effective, most sustainable investment is in its own staff and most importantly, its own children. Furthermore, how can schools guarantee SSP spending reaches every child?  While a focus on traditional, competitive sport might suit some children, does it suit all? Sport is not a ‘one size fits all’ offer. It needs diversity to be totally inclusive. It needs innovation to reach every child. It needs to offer something to everyone at every level.

Done well, sport and play can engage the most difficult to reach child, raise self-confidence, raise self-esteem and raise attainment. Done well, sport and play dissolves stereotypical boundaries and becomes limitless. Done well sport and play can be fun!

Our work, in collaboration with the NHS is backed up by independent research from Leeds Metropolitan University, which concludes:

  • Independent observers: an increase in INDIVIDUALS’ physical activity (plus increases in staff supervising the space.
  • Teacher observers: more (%) children are more active (boys AND girls)
  • Reduced % of lightly engaged pupils
  • A wide range of benefits for pupil involvement – developmental and curricular, individual and systemic
  • Playgrounds seen as more positive environments for all members of the school community
  • As well as sustaining already active children, what equivalent investments will benefit an additional four children in every class of 28 (and in so many diffuse ways)?

I have joined the passionate team at ESP Play to share and promote best practice in schools and help schools make best use of their limited capacity.

 

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10 amazing playground equipment deals

10 Amazing Play Equipment Deals

We have created 10 playground equipment special offers to help you develop your outdoor area on a budget. With everything from seating solutions to climbing frames covered, don't miss out on these amazing prices.
Get these whilst you can!

Deal 1 - 5 Magnetic Game Boards

Get our 5 most popular magnetic game boards!

 

Children are most enthusiastic when they are having fun, magnetic game boards are a good way to get them to interact with each other in a fun and enjoyable way.

 

What you get:


 

 What you pay:


Only £699 including installation

Post mount your boards for only £120 each.

Deal 2 - Rope Trail

Our popular Rope Trail offers schools a fantastic way to get a large climbing structure into a small space and also at a fantastic price.

 

There are 7 individual challenges as part of the trail designed to provide a physical challenge for your pupils.

 

What you get:


 

  • Twisty Challenge

  • Traverse Net

  • Tyre Pass

  • Balance Challenge

  • Rope Traverse Zig

  • Rope Traverse Zag

  • Spinning Log

 What you pay:


Only £3,699 including installation

Deal 3 - Ball Catcher & Ball Catcher Trainer Marking

Our multi-coloured steel Ball Catcher stimulates both physical and mental activities.

 

With one entrance point and 3 exit points, the challenge is to get the ball in the entrance and run around the ball catcher to the appropriate exit point.

 

What you get:


 

 What you pay:


Only £1,179 including installation

Deal 4 - Story Telling Area

school story telling area special offer

Let your children and even staff enjoy telling stories outdoors with our story telling area package.

 

The large story telling chair is an ideal focal point for the story-teller and the 5 colourful log seats are perfect for eager listeners.

 

What you get:


 

 What you pay:


Only £1,269 including installation

Deal 5 - 2 x Recessed Goal Units

The recessed goal unit is designed to contain ball games in a highly active zoned area. It is a fantastic exhaust for energy for all ages and abilities.

 

The recessed goal unit unit carries a 10 Year guarantee against rot and infestation.

 

What you get:


 

 What you pay:


Only £2,865 including installation

Deal 6 - Small Shaded Pergola with Planters and Seating

Small shaded pergola with planters and seating to seat up to six children. The pergola enables children to interact to chat, read and develop social skills.

 

All our pergolas come with a 10 Year guarantee against rot and infestation.

 

What you get:


 

 What you pay:


Only £1,545 including installation

Deal 7 - 5 Panel Traversing Wall

The wooden traversing wall is a robust solution for a school with minimal wall space. Complete with explosion proof handgrips, made from resin bound sand, combine fun and physical activity whilst encouraging team building and leadership.

 

All our climbing walls carry a 10 Year guarantee against rot and infestation.

 

What you get:


 

 What you pay:


Only £1,375 including installation

Deal 8 - Tangled Wolf and Grass Matting Surfacing

The Tangled Wolf frame is a lower-level and more cost effective version of our popular Tarantula climbing frame which offers children everything to help them develop into confident climbers.

 

The Tangled Wolf features a 10 Year guarantee against rot and infestation.

 

What you get:


 

 What you pay:


Only £8,165 including installation

Deal 9 - Excellent Adventure Play Tower

The Excellent Adventure Towers design is one of the larger Play Towers available from ESP and includes a range of challenging apparatus that bring variety to a playground space.

 

Our Excellent Adventure Tower features a 10 Year guarantee against rot and infestation.

 

What you get:


 

 What you pay:


Only £8,145 including installation

Deal 10 - Play Hut

The playhut offers a fantastic opportunity for role play, creativity, imagination and inclusion.

 

Children can interact with each other, stimulating creative play in a safe, welcoming and sheltered environment.

 

What you get:


 

 What you pay:


Only £940 including installation

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Playground Funding Assistance

Playground funding for your next development

Acquiring funding for your next play area development can be arduous which is why we have created a comprehensive playground funding assistance guide which will talk you through the various different options available to your school.

Getting some ideas together for how you want to transform your outdoor area is essential if you are to be successful in securing any financial contribution towards it. We have a vast range of products available to get you started but we also offer every school a completely FREE playground design service to show you how your dream play area could look. We can design schemes to suit any budget or specific requirements your school may have.

In addition to this we have just introduced our new Funding Bid Writing & Management Service where a member of our team will manage your application from start to finish to increase the likelihood of you securing the funding you need.

Our guide covers:

 

  • How to use ESP’s unique Funding Bid Writing and Management Service.
  • What products you can spend your Sports Premium Budget on.
  • Acquiring funding directly from ESP.

 

Continue to our full guide here…

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