How to Improve Early Years Provision Through Outdoor Play Equipment

Ofsted loves a good playground. Many outstanding primary schools, pre-schools and nurseries are often praised for creating well-resourced playgrounds that enable high-quality learning to take place outside of the classroom. In this post, we’ll explain what Ofsted sees as important for school playgrounds and show you how you can improve early years provision through your own outdoor spaces.

What does Ofsted look for in a school playground?

Primarily, Ofsted wants to see a playground that can be used as an outdoor learning space. For EYFS and primary pupils, they are looking for facilities and equipment that helps children:

  • learn and practise their literacy and numeracy skills
  • improve physical development
  • enhance learning about the environment
  • stimulate their imaginations
  • participate in well planned and focused learning activities

In the rest of this post, we’ll show you how you can achieve these things in your own playground.

1. Developing literacy and numeracy skills

One of the key skills for EYFS children is learning letters and numbers and the best way to do this outdoors is to make it a fun activity. One example of how this can be achieved is to install a small traversing wall in which the handgrips children hold on to are the letters of the alphabet or where the grips are numbered.  

Other resources include playground markings, such as alphabet targets, footwork vowels and phonetic spots for literacy, and number arches, number grids and hopscotch games for numeracy.


With resources for encouraging roleplay to develop speaking and listening and table top and upright boards for mark making, it is easy to set your playground up as the ideal place for young pupils to learn literacy and numeracy.

2. Improve physical development

There are lots of outdoor playground resources to improve a child’s physical development. These can increase physical fitness through aerobic activities, develop muscular strength or work on skills such as balance and agility.

The best thing about them is that they are great to play on. They motivate and stimulate children into getting active and, as a result, they see physical activity as something fun rather than as a chore. To give you an example of just a few of the things you can do, here at ESP Play we have play towers to climb on and slide down, exciting trim trail obstacle courses to complete and a wide range of playground markings to encourage active play and sports.    

3. Enhance learning about the environment

Ideally, every school should have an outdoor area where pupils can learn to appreciate the environment. If you don’t have the luxury of a school garden or field, however, there are resources that encourage wildlife to come into your school grounds. These include bug houses, butterfly boxes, bird feeders and ladybird towers.

To complement these, you can add a range of planters and trellises and even a discovery planter to create your own nature zone. All these resources encourage children to develop an interest in and an appreciation for the nature in their own backyard. At the same time, they provide teachers with the facilities needed to help children learn about nature and the environment.

4. Stimulate children’s imaginations

One of the best ways to develop children’s imaginations is to provide them with ample time for unstructured activities where they are free to let their minds wander. However, to get the most from this, Ofsted recognises that schools need to provide the equipment that will stimulate imaginative play.

Luckily, there is so much equipment available to do this, that it is possible to create an entire adventure world in which children can roleplay to their heart’s content. Our imaginative playground equipment includes mountains, mines, tunnels, bridges, warped mirrors, play huts, teepees, den making posts, carriages, trains, mud kitchens, shop kiosks, outdoor musical instruments and much more. All of which can be installed on child-safe playground surfacing.

With facilities like this in your playground, there is no end of things that children can explore through roleplay and imagination.

5. Participate in well-planned and focused learning activities

It’s not just the resources that you use that will get you praise from Ofsted, it’s how you utilise them in children’s learning. To get the most out of them, you need to use them as a resource in structured lessons, besides letting children use them for free play. The possibilities, however, are endless. With the resources mentioned in this post, you can plan lessons that cover many aspects of the EYFS curriculum. Here’s just an example:

  • Use the shop kiosk to create roleplay scenarios for developing communication and language.
  • Set up a trim trail obstacle course to develop physical coordination, control and movement skills.
  • Give children roles to carry out using imaginative equipment to develop social skills.
  • Play bean bag catching games on the phonic spots to develop phonic skills.
  • Play counting games using the number grid to help with basic addition and subtraction.
  • Plan activities to observe changes in the bug house or butterfly boxes to help with understanding the environment.
  • Use outdoor musical instruments to explore sound for the expressive arts element of EYFS.


As you can see, when it comes to EYFS, learning doesn’t have to be confined to the indoor space. Using outdoor playground equipment enables you to extend and enhance the provision you deliver to young pupils, giving them a far richer learning experience – one that both they and Ofsted will appreciate.

For more information, take a look at our specific range of EYFS equipment, designed to complement all seven areas of the EYFS curriculum.


How to Improve Playground Behaviour and Safety

Putting children in an open space with unstructured activities and limited adult supervision can cause problems, especially when you have the whole school using the space at the same time. This makes lunch and break times a period of increased risk for the safety of children. One way to reduce that risk is to improve pupil behaviour in the playground. In this post, we’ll take a look at some of the ways this can be achieved.

What behaviours need to be managed?

When we talk about playground behaviour, we are referring to a range of things that children do which can have health and safety concerns. Whilst bullying is something that easily comes to mind, there are less extreme behaviours which can also be risky, such as going into ‘out of bounds’ areas, playing ball games near windows, climbing on walls or playing physical games in high traffic areas.

With the exception of bullying, none of these are malicious; yet most children know they are breaking a rule when they do them. To make a playground safer, therefore, the aim is to stop this behaviour happening. Whilst better policing might be one way to reduce the number of incidents where rules get broken, a better strategy would be to address the causes of these behaviours. Here are some ways you can do this in your playground.

1. Reducing bullying by reducing boredom

One factor that can increase incidents of bullying in the playground is boredom. According to an article in The Telegraph, a report, commissioned by the Royal Bank of Scotland, claims that playground bullying is directly linked to a lack of stimulation and that one sixth of UK children suffer from break time boredom.

The key to resolving playground bullying, then, is in providing something interesting for children to do. Children who are engaged and happy are far less likely to pick on other children. According to the same Telegraph article, the charity Landscapes for Learning says that schools that have transformed their playgrounds have seen a 64% reduction in bullying. They’ve seen vandalism fall by 28%, too.

Transforming your playground is no longer a difficult task. The variety of high-quality playground equipment now available means schools can cater for the needs of children all the way from EYFS to the top end of secondary school. This doesn’t just include things for the sporty kids either; there’s equipment for arty kids, nature lovers, adventure seekers, mud pie makers and much more.

2. Improve behaviour through managing space

One way to stop pupils playing physical activities in areas where they might cause injury or damage is to divide your playground into discrete activity zones. For example, if you have children wanting to play football during the break times this can be done quite easily with the installation of playground markings. You can also add a sports playground surface to this area as well, such as wetpour surfacing or artificial grass.

By installing these dedicated activity areas, you provide the incentive pupils need to behave more considerately towards others. They will be much more likely to use the facilities on offer and as a result, the risk of accidents is reduced.

It’s not just the setting up of a sports zone that can improve the way children behave, though. It’s about setting up a range of different zones and locating them in the most appropriate place. For example, if you install a sand and water play zone for your infant pupils, you might not want your juniors to take over the area. Locating this near a place that is easily supervised and which can be fenced off will discourage older pupils from going in an area they know is out of bounds.

3. Stop rule breaking by providing essential facilities

Children are great improvisers. If you don’t provide them with a ball, they’ll use a plastic bottle or a tin can; if you don’t give them somewhere to sit, they’ll use a wall, a windowsill or some steps. With the latter, you’ll find many schools where there are no seating facilities at all in the playground and yet there are rules forbidding children from sitting on walls, windowsills and steps for health and safety reasons.

Whilst it’s understandable why the rules are in place, it’s equally as understandable why children choose to ignore them. What’s not understandable is why schools don’t provide adequate facilities in the first place. Playground seating is relatively inexpensive, lasts a very long time and when put in the right place stops children breaking rules and risking getting injured.

You can do this with bins to prevent the dropping of litter, with playground paving to encourage children to follow rules about moving safely from area to area, and with picnic tables to make sure they eat their snacks and lunches is designated areas.


A well-equipped school playground can have a big impact on behaviour and safety. Not only does it remove one of the main causes of bullying, it also helps manage minor behaviour issues that can lead to the risk of accident and injury. When installed, children naturally begin to use the equipment in ways which make playgrounds safer and which reduces the burden on those staff who are on duty.

If you are considering transforming your playground, check out our wide range of outdoor play equipment or take advantage of our free playground design service.


How Outdoor Playground Equipment Helps Achieve Healthy School Status

Receiving the Healthy School Award is an achievement for any school as it shows commitment to the health and wellbeing of staff and students alike. It proves you’ve put policy into practice and come up with beneficial outcomes – something that will be appealing to Ofsted, potential parents and those highly skilled staff you need to recruit. In this post, we’ll look at the ways outdoor play equipment can help you achieve healthy school status.

Areas in which school playground equipment can help

There are four core elements schools needs to address to achieve the award: personal, social and health education, healthy eating, physical activity, and emotional health and wellbeing. Outdoor play equipment can help you meet several of the criteria in the last two of these areas.

Physical activity

Many of the criteria listed under physical activity are managerial ones – creating policies, implementing and monitoring plans, and consulting with others, however, the aim of all these is to ensure the following outcomes are achieved:

  • Pupils are provided with a range of opportunities to be physically active.
  • They understand that physical activity can be a part of their everyday life.
  • They understand how physical activity can help them to be healthier.

Installing outdoor playground equipment at your school can help you achieve two specific criteria under this heading: firstly, with providing two hours of structured physical activity per week and, secondly, with getting children to participate in extracurricular activities that promote physical activity.

Helping improve structured physical activity

When it comes to structured activity, there is a wide range of outdoor playground equipment that can help. For example, at ESP Play, we provide playground markings for many different sports including basketball, cricket, football, netball and tennis. There is also a wide selection of markings that are designed for sports training and to develop skills, such as target trainers, zigzag steppers and ball catcher trainers. These can be placed together to create a multi-skills zone.

In addition to our markings, we have other equipment to help with physical activity, such as our AllGo outdoor multi-gym, which includes pull up and press up bars, leg raise, step up box, monkey bars and sit up benches. Of course, we provide all the other equipment you may need, too: basketball hoops, football goals, safe playground flooring, etc.

With this range of equipment available, it is easy for schools to extend the opportunities for pupils to participate in structured physical activity – both within the curriculum and in extracurricular activities.      

Improving participation in extracurricular physical activity

Improving participation in extracurricular activities can be a real challenge for schools. Teachers are still busy when the school closes and many children can’t or don’t want to stay at school beyond the final bell. However, outdoor playground equipment offers the perfect solution. If it is in your playground, every child has access to it every single day, and as it provides the opportunity for unstructured activity during break and lunchtimes, there is no need for extra staffing or to plan activities.

The key to increasing participation lies in installing equipment that will entice pupils to take part and at ESP Play, that is something we specialise in. Besides the equipment mentioned above, which provides the opportunity for a spot of lunchtime football or netball, we have a wide range of equipment designed just for active play. This includes exciting Trim Trails and Free Flow climbing apparatus, RoSPA approved Parkour (freerunning) equipment, climbing walls, play towers and much more.

Independent research has shown that equipment like this encourages much greater participation in physical activity – both in terms of how many students get involved and the amount of time each student participates.

By providing these types of facilities it would make it much easier for schools to achieve the criteria of increasing participation. It would also be easy to provide data about the number of children participating in order to prove that increases had occurred. In addition, this also helps to show children that physical activity can be part of everyday life – another criteria schools need to meet.

Of course, not every child wants to take part in these types of activity but there are ways you can encourage the less sporty and more artistically minded pupils to get active too. For younger children, there is a selection of role-play equipment: bridges, tunnels, trains, wigwam posts, etc., and for children of all ages, there is a selection of stages on which they can practice and perform dance routines or make up their own plays.

Improving emotional health and wellbeing

Our playground equipment for schools can help you meet three separate criteria for emotional health and wellbeing:

  • Establish appropriate strategies to support vulnerable children.
  • Create a positive environment which enhances emotional health and well­being.
  • Provide opportunities for pupils to participate in school activities to build their confidence and self-esteem.

The reason school playground equipment can help is that physical activity can improve a range of mental health problems including depression and anxiety - indeed, it is sometimes prescribed as a treatment for these. It can even have a positive impact on ADHD. And for all children, it has been shown to improve mood and cognitive alertness.

In this sense, simply installing fun and stimulating playground equipment immediately creates a positive environment for enhancing emotional health. That equipment, however, can also be used to put ‘appropriate strategies’ in place to support children with emotional issues or diagnosed mental health problems. Giving these students timetabled access to equipment will increase their activity levels to help them deal with their illnesses. This is certainly worthwhile considering the difficulties schools have in accessing other support, such as educational psychologists and trained counsellors.

As for the third criteria, school playground equipment such as trim trails and climbing frames has an in-built element of challenge. Children want to get to the end of the obstacle course or finish the climb before falling off. These are perfect for building confidence and boosting self-esteem all while doing something that is fun and healthy. And because many of our products have interchangeable components, you can increase or decrease the challenge whenever you need to.


From reading this article you should now have a clearer idea of how school playground equipment can help your school attain Healthy School Status. It can be used to expand opportunities for structured physical activity, increase participation in extracurricular time and, by helping kids be more active, have a positive impact on their emotional wellbeing.


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