Published On: 7 December 2023772 words3.9 min read

Today, every school wants to have an accessible playground. Headteachers know that by creating such a space they can give every pupil, regardless of their abilities, the opportunity to fully benefit from playing outdoors. What’s more, an accessible playground upholds the school’s commitment to inclusivity, plays a key role in improving physical and mental wellbeing of pupils and ensures compliance with legal requirements. In this article, we look at some practical tips for creating an accessible school playground.

What is Playground Accessibility?

Bringing accessibility to a school playground involves creating spaces that accommodate children of all abilities in a safe and comfortable way. This means schools need to consider a range of needs, from physical disabilities to sensory and cognitive differences. An accessible playground is not simply one with wheelchair ramps and a few pieces of specialised equipment, rather, it is designed with inclusivity in mind and offers a range of play options and sensory experiences.

Designing an Accessible School Playground

When creating an accessible playground, you should aim to make it as universally usable as possible, and ensure it caters for a wide range of abilities and preferences. For example, you can improve the choices available to pupils by using flexible play equipment, i.e., items that can easily be changed or used for different activities, like interchangeable trim trails and multicourt sports markings.

With regard to the overall layout and design of the playground, this should be simple and composed of distinct play zones, each with a designated type of activity. As for navigation, children should easily be able to find their way around, i.e., be able to know where things are and how to get there. This means creating clear sightlines and potentially using signage, including in braille. Pupils should also be able to get to where they want to go, so ensure there are adequate and safe pathways leading from one place to another.

Essential Features

When it comes to the specific features of your playground, start off by making sure your surfaces are suitable for wheelchair users and those with difficulty walking or impaired vision. All your pathways should be wide and smooth for easy movement, and you should use the most appropriate playground surfacing, e.g., artificial grass, wetpour, resin bound gravel, rubber mulch, etc., for each type of activity on offer.

As for the choice of outdoor play equipment, remember that even with the best of intentions, not all children will be able to access every item. It is important, therefore, that you provide a wide enough variety to cater for the abilities and interests of everyone. This will include sensory play elements, structures with lower heights and apparatus that are wheelchair friendly.

Incorporating sensory elements can be very beneficial for children with sensory processing challenges. You can improve their play experience by introducing textured paths or sensory zones, while shaded areas are helpful for children who are sensitive to sunlight. Creating quiet zones, especially nature areas, is another vital feature that gives respite to pupils who feel overwhelmed or who need a calm space, for example, those with autism or anxiety.

Another important consideration is social interaction. Even if some children are unable to play on certain pieces of equipment, they still need access to them to hang out with any friends that do use them. Failure to ensure this can make some pupils socially isolated. This doesn’t just apply to play equipment, but to things like outdoor social areas too. To overcome this, you can install wheelchair friendly picnic tables, sand pits and mud kitchens which easily let wheelchair users play and socialise with friends.

Maintenance and Safety

As they are heavily used, ongoing maintenance and regular safety checks are imperative to keep your playground accessible and safe. This includes conducting routine inspections of the equipment, ensuring surfaces are smooth and free from hazards, and regularly reviewing and updating accessibility features to meet changing needs. Remember that all school playground equipment should undergo an annual inspection by a fully qualified RPII inspector to ensure it remains compliant with BS EN 1176 safety standards.

Conclusion

An accessible school playground is an important element of an inclusive school. It establishes an environment where every pupil, regardless of their ability, can play, learn and mix with their peers, and where no child is inadvertently excluded from the activities on offer. Hopefully, the information provided here will be helpful to you if you are looking at ways to create an accessible school playground.

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