Best Outdoor Playground Equipment for Schools

UK school playgrounds have undergone something of a revolution in the last few years. Gone are the days when children were hoofed out on to dull asphalted yards with nothing more to entertain them than a ball and a skipping rope.

Today, schoolyards are far more vibrant and exciting, and this is all possible because of the wide range of playground equipment available, including different varieties of surfacing, playground markings, play equipment and even resources to create exciting outdoor classrooms.

So, if your school playground still looks like a throwback to the middle of the last century, as in the 1940s image above, we hope these products will give you an idea of how you can make yours fit for the 21st-century child.

Safest playground flooring

Traditionally, school playgrounds are surfaced with asphalt or tarmac. Whilst these are hardy surfaces, their hardness can lead to health and safety risks such as cuts, bumps and grazes. During snowy or icy weather, they can also become very slippery, putting pupils and staff at risk of more serious injury. If you intend to modernise your playground and are considering climbing equipment, hard surfaces create a risk for those who may fall.

Today, there is a range of different playground surfaces to choose from and it is possible to create different zones each with a different type of surface. For safety, however, the ideal solution would be to install wetpour surfacing. This soft surfacing solution is made from resin bound recycled tyre crumbs and, while firm enough to walk and play on, is able to cushion children when they fall, reducing the likelihood of injuries. Wetpour surfacing can also be installed in a variety of colours to give your playground a more exciting feel.

Most useful playground markings

There are a plethora of playground marking available and they can be used for all sorts of purposes: traditional games, literacy and numeracy development, sports skill training and much more.

Perhaps the most useful, and one of ESP Play’s most popular playground markings, are the multicourt markings. Ideal for small playgrounds, a multicourt creates three sports courts in one area: futsal (like 5-a-side football), netball and basketball. This is done by overlaying the markings for each sport in different colours.

A multicourt enables pupils to play fitness enhancing sports together during break and lunchtimes and can also be used during PE lessons or for inter-school competitions. Nets and goals are also available.

Healthiest sports equipment

Today’s schools are spoiled for choice when it comes to playground sports equipment, from full-sized artificial pitches to ball walls, basketball nets, soccer goals and even outdoor table tennis. However, if you want to take pupil fitness to the next level, then our outdoor AllGo+ Gym is a must.

The gym equipment, which uses body weight only, comprises a range of different pieces of which you can mix and match to suit your own needs. These include: press up and pull up bars, flat and inclined sit-up benches, monkey bars, leg risers, step markers and circles steps. Made from wood, they are less expensive, safer and easier to maintain than steel alternatives.

Best playground seating and furniture

playground seating

Outdoor seating and furniture have long been neglected in schools. When they’re installed, they give children places to sit, chat and eat lunch. When you buy picnic benches, you are also getting the seating resources for an outdoor classroom and reducing the pressure for space in the canteen.

If you want the ultimate outdoor seating solution, check out the ESP Play octagonal shelter with solid sides, seating and decking. This large shelter provides lots of seating, protection from the wind and rain and can be used for outdoor lessons and as a mini performance area as well as for use by children during break times.

Most exciting outdoor play equipment

Great outdoor play equipment needs to fulfil a number of roles. It should give children something entertaining to do, stimulate physical activity and encourage them to play together. At ESP Play, we have a variety of equipment types which do this. These include imaginative play equipment, sand and water play, trim trails, play towers, and climbing equipment.

Perhaps the most exciting new product we have is our Freeflow modular climbing equipment. Designed to excite and challenge students whilst keeping them active and healthy, it’s the ideal obstacle course for children and one which you can add to as and when your budget allows.


As you can see, outdoor playground equipment has come a long way and for good reasons. A well-equipped playground helps children stay active, learn new skills, develop relationships and enjoy school more. It can even have positive effects on mental health, behaviour and progress. In this sense, updating your playground is much more than giving kids something to do at break times, it’s an investment in their future wellbeing.

For more information about the wide range of outdoor playground equipment available at ESP Play, visit our homepage.


How to Encourage Free Play Through Playground Design

Free play is a fundamental part of child development, enabling children to learn a range of important skills whilst broadening their understanding of the world in which they live.

For schools and EYFS providers, one of your key tasks is to equip your playground with resources that give pupils all the motivation and opportunity they need to indulge themselves in free play.

In this post, we’ll look at the best way to go this for your outdoor environment.

Designing your outdoor free play environment

When creating your free play area, there are a number of things to consider: it’s got to be safe, it has to give children a range of stimulating activities, and it needs to offer opportunities for developing social, thinking, creative and physical skills. The best way to achieve this is to design your playground so that it is made up of different zones.

Establishing zones enables you to have control over what activities take place in different areas of your outdoor space. This is great for making things safe and for establishing microenvironments that can function well without being impinged upon by what happens in the near vicinity. For example, you don’t want children coming down a slide to be hit by a ball, or a noisy activity disrupting something which requires quiet concentration.

Another added benefit of creating zones in this way is that they require less adult intervention. When you place your zones in the right places, free play can go on, uninterrupted, without teachers or staff members continually having to warn children about potential safety hazards.

It is possible to create a wide variety of different zones. Whilst available space and budget will influence what you choose, the biggest factor will be the age, interests and needs of the children you teach. Here are some examples of different zones you may want to consider.

1. Physical activity zones

climbing frames

An active play zone is great for encouraging kids to play together and is a fun way for them to get physical exercise and develop physical skills. There is a wide variety of equipment which can be used to create this area including play towers which have rope climbing nets, swinging bridges and slides; wooden balance equipment; trim trail obstacle course equipment; and climbing walls. There is also a range of playground markings such as hopscotch and steppers.  

If you have more space, you can install mini roadways, complete with road signs, zebra crossings and bridges for children to drive their ride-on toys or trikes around. Alternatively, there’s sports equipment like football and netball pitches.


2. Imaginative and creative zones

Younger children love imaginative play and it’s vital for their social and cognitive development that they get the opportunity. There is a huge selection of imaginary playground equipment for you to choose from which will encourage them to go off on the most unbelievable role play adventures. These include logs to crawls through, magical distorting mirrors, shop kiosks, play huts, bridges, wigwams, sit on wooden trains, and much more. All you need to add is a basket of costumes and props and they’ll be transported to their imaginary world in a flash.

If you are wanting to develop a more artistically creative zone, there are also panels and tables specially designed for painting, drawing and mark making as well a whole selection of fun outdoor musical instruments, such as chimes, drainpipe drums, xylophones and washboards.

3. Wet and mucky zones

Childhood wouldn’t be childhood without water, sand and mud pies. They’re key ingredients for having fun and developing sensory skills at the same time. With everything from sand pits, mud kitchens, and water and sand play equipment to choose from, there’s nothing to stop you creating what is sure to be one of the children’s favourite places to play.

4. Nature zones

Nature zones offer young children three things: somewhere to learn about and appreciate nature; the ability to take part in a spot of gardening; and somewhere quiet to escape the noisiness of the other zones.

You can help foster an appreciation of nature by growing plants and by encouraging birds and insects to visit the zone. There is a range of planters and trellises which can be used to grow plants and there are also butterfly boxes, insect habitats, ladybird towers and bird tables available to install. Fence off the zone to protect it when it’s not in use and you could soon see your own mini nature reserve in your school or nursery playground.

Of course, there’s nothing to stop you getting the children to participate in the gardening by planting flowers, herbs and vegetables in the growing boxes, digging pits and herb planters. You can even put up a range of interchangeable nature boards to help them identify different flora and fauna that they might see or grow.

By setting your nature zone some distance from the noisier zones, not only do you encourage birds and insects to visit your nature zone, but you also create the calm atmosphere these areas need. Its’ the perfect place to tell stories, sit and chat in the sunshine or even have lunch – picnic tables and seats that look like mushrooms are available. Check out our full range of nature equipment.  

Other ideas

Of course, you don’t have to create the zones we suggest, the beauty of outdoor playground equipment is that you can create the zones you think will work best for your pupils. Other things which you may find useful include den making equipment which can be great at helping children learn to work together in small teams, and covered areas, such as shelters, canopies and pergolas, which enable outdoor play when it’s raining.

Playground surfacing

With all this activity going on, the one thing you shouldn’t overlook is the playground surfacing. Different zones are often best served by different surfaces. For example, you may want your nature zone lawned with natural grass but want your active zone to have a cushioned surface to protect from scrapes and falls. There’s also artificial grass, rubber mulching, wet pour surfacing, resin bound gravel, grass matting and block paving available. There is a surface to suit every type of zone.


Outdoor free play environments give children every opportunity they need to learn while they play. Hopefully, this post will have shown you that through the creation of different zones you can empower you children in ways that are safe, motivate participation and stimulate learning. For more information about our range of school playground equipment, visit our products page or call us on 01282 43 44 45.


How to Turn Your Playground into a Stimulating Environment

When creating a stimulating environment, many schools put all their focus indoors. You see fabulous classrooms and corridors but when you look outside all you find is a dull rectangle of grey asphalt. Ofsted, however, expect to see more. They want your outdoor space as a place where learning and personal development can continue during the children’s free time.

For those looking to develop their playground, here are some ideas of how you can make it more stimulating for pupils and inspectors alike.

What should you be trying to achieve?

According to audit tools from the Essex County Council and the National Strategies, schools and EYFS providers should be asking the following questions when assessing the quality of their outdoor environment:

  • Do children have access to a well-resourced outdoor environment?
  • Is the area well organised, inviting and challenging?
  • Does the playground enable children to develop their independence?
  • Are there are opportunities for children to be physical?

In the rest of this post, we’ll show you how you can develop your playground in a way that you can give a positive response to each of the questions above.

Creating a well-resourced playground

How you resource your playground depends on the pupils. The resources you install need to be appropriate for the children’s age, abilities and interests. The starting point, therefore, needs to be some form of pupil consultation so you can discover what features they would like to see.

For secondary students, this might include something as simple as having a playground shelter or some seating and furniture where they can sit and chat with friends. They might also want some sports markings to play football, netball or basketball. It’s unlikely that these things alone, however, could be regarded as well-resourced. Luckily, there is plenty more secondary school playground equipment on offer: outdoor table tennis, multi-gyms, trim-trails, climbing walls and much more.

For primary and EYFS pupils, there is a whole wealth of stimulating equipment on offer. For those who like more tactile activities there are water play tables and sand boxes. There are even a mud kitchens and sand pits. We’ve also got den building equipment, outdoor musical instruments and we can even install a play road to drive those trikes around!

At these ages, one of the things schools want to stimulate most is a child’s imagination and there are lots pieces of equipment to help them achieve this. Here at ESP Play, our imaginary playground equipment includes play huts, hollow logs, distorting mirrors, shop kiosks, bridges, sit on wooden trains, wigwams, and much more.

An organised, inviting and challenging playground

Organising your playground essentially means designing the layout of your equipment in a way that is safe and practical. For example, you don’t want to put football markings directly next to a climbing frame in case a climber gets hit by the ball and falls off.

Luckily, at ESP Play, we’ve had years of practice designing playgrounds and have a wealth of experience working with schools. We will work with you to design a playground that is perfect for your school and pupils. Of course, our playground design service is free.

Making your playground inviting isn’t just about putting in brightly coloured or interesting looking resources, though these help. What’s more important is that you have equipment that the children really want to use. Most year 11 students, for example, aren’t going to be too enamoured by a sand pit. To make your playground work, get Student Voice involved right from the start.

When it comes to creating a challenging playground, there are lots of resources available. Interchangeable Trim Trails, climbing walls and All-Go Gyms, for example, all enable pupils to challenge themselves to do things which are increasingly difficult, which may require them to overcome fears or which encourage them to set new personal bests.

Helping children develop independence

Children become independent when they can do things for themselves. To get there, however, they need the self-confidence to have a go and the resilience to pick themselves up and start again when they fail.

Once again, trim trails and climbing walls are excellent resources for doing this. Trim trails are obstacle courses which, because some of their components are interchangeable, can be made increasingly challenging. They are fun to play on and are great for building self-confidence and resilience. The same applies to our climbing walls. A child may have to make several attempts to get from one side to the other before they achieve success.

The self-confidence and resilience developed using these types of equipment can then be used in other areas of learning to develop their all-round independence.

Giving opportunities to be physical

play towers

Much of the equipment already mentioned above provides plenty of opportunities for children to get physical exercise in the school playground. Trim trails, climbing walls and All-GO Gyms are great for developing muscle strength, balance and stamina whilst football, netball and basketball are good aerobic exercises.

However, after sitting down for a few hours in the classroom, equipment that motivates pupils to do any form of physical activity is welcome. This can be achieved just as much with imaginative playground equipment, through the wide range of playground marking games or through traditional playground installations such as play towers and slides.


As you can see, things have moved on from the days when playground equipment amounted to a couple of school jumpers for goal posts and a half-deflated football borrowed from the PE teacher. Today, Ofsted wants to see playgrounds play their part in helping young people develop and stay healthy. Hopefully, this post will have shown you how to create a stimulating playground environment and given you some ideas of how to equip it.

For more ideas, visit our products page or call us on 01282 43 44 45.


6 Types of Playground Flooring Available for Schools

Playground Flooring from ESP Play

Playground flooring is becoming a requirement in school playgrounds more and more.

Today, we have a much greater choice available to us when it comes to playground flooring. There are surfaces which are much safer to play on and which offer a wider range of playground activities. With the right flooring in place, a playground can be transformed into something far more useful for outdoor lessons, PE and break times.

Here are six alternative types of playground flooring you can now choose from.

1. Artificial Grass and Sports Surfacing

Artificial grass can turn your playground from a dull grey desert into a green oasis overnight. It creates a far more pleasant and inviting outdoor space for children to enjoy and, being softer than tarmac or asphalt, it is safer for children to play on. It is ideal for warmer days too, as it is somewhere where children can sit and lay on in the sunshine – something they don’t normally do on uncomfortable and dirty surfaces like Tarmac or asphalt.

Artificial grass also makes great sports surfacing. You can install playground markings on the artificial grass to create a wide range of sports pitches and courts. This gives children the incentive to get involved in physical activities during break times and gives you extra PE facilities at the same time.

Unlike real grass, the artificial variety doesn’t need to be mowed, weeded or reseeded. It doesn’t get muddy, either, so can be used all year round – and it will last for many years.

2.Block Paving

Block paving is a great way to create safe, slip resistant pathways on your playground. It is ideal for use in high-traffic areas, for demarcating boundaries between different sections of your playground and for creating decorative features using its contrasting textures and patterns.

Long lasting and very hard wearing, block paving is an affordable and practical way to safely manage movement in your outdoor spaces.

3. Grass Matting

If you are lucky enough to have a grassed playground area, you’ll know that there can be times when it’s not ideal to let children play on it. It can get slippery and muddy when wet and worn down by overuse. Luckily, there is an excellent solution.

When you lay rubber grass matting over your existing grassed areas, it enables it to be used all year round. Grass matting reduces slippage in the wet, prevents children getting muddy when they land directly on the soil and stops the grass wearing away. The matting can be mowed over just like normal grass, making maintenance easy.

Grass matting is an economical way to improve the grassed areas of your playground, making them safer, letting them be used all year round and reducing the need for reseeding.

4. Resin Bound Gravel

A modern alternative to tarmac or asphalt, resin bound gravel can be used to cover playgrounds or pathways. Made from a combination of aggregate gravel and polyurethane resin, this playground flooring provides a hard and durable surface which, because of its porous properties, is resistant to forming puddles or staying wet on the surface. It also makes a high-quality, easy to use surface for wheelchair access.

5. Rubber Mulch

Available in a variety of colours, rubber mulch is a soft but solid playground flooring material made from recycled rubber pieces bonded together by high-performance polyurethane. The finished result gives an attractive appearance that looks like a natural bark chip surface but, unlike real bark, is fixed in place.

Rubber mulch creates a softer surface that is ideal for playgrounds as it cushions falls, reducing the potential for injury when children are playing.

6. Wetpour Surfacing

Wetpour surfacing is similar to rubber mulch in that recycled rubber is bonded together to create a soft, impact absorbent playground surface. The difference is that wetpour surfaces are smooth and so are more useful for playing games and sports. In addition, a wetpour surface can be used in conjunction with playground markings to create safe and durable sports courts and pitches.

Available in a wide choice of colours, wetpour playground flooring makes it is possible to create your own patterns and designs using a mixture of different colours. This type of surface, common in many public playgrounds and play areas, is ideal for schools. It is free-draining, maintenance free, highly durable and wheelchair friendly. It also makes the perfect surface for schools wishing to install trim trails, climbing frames and other outdoor playground equipment.


As you can see from this post, the choice of playground flooring available to schools today enables you to create far safer environments which are more attractive to play on, can be used for a wider range of sports and activities and which need little or no maintenance. For more details, see our playground flooring and surfacing page.