How to Design a School Playground – 5 Key Tips

A well-designed school playground can be a real asset. With the right layout and outdoor play equipment, it can offer a wide range of benefits in health, behaviour, inclusion and even attainment. It also means happier pupils. Getting your design right, however, can be difficult. So, to help, our design experts have put together these five key tips to help you design your perfect school playground.

1. Make it Inviting

If you are going to invest in school playground equipment, you want your pupils to take advantage of all the new things you’ll provide for them and the best way to do this is to make your playground an inviting place.

To do this, start by making sure you install your new equipment in a place that is easily accessible to all pupils. Keep it fairly near to the school building so children don’t have to walk far to get there and make sure there are adequate pathways to it; no one wants to traipse through a quagmire in order to play.

Being overprotective of your new playground design can also make it uninviting, so avoid barricading it behind wire mesh fencing. Making it look like a prison yard is not going to encourage kids to play.

2. Design A Place of Discovery

One of the best ways to design a playground is to layout your equipment so that it leads children from area to area in a voyage of discovery. For example, if you have a trim trail, make sure, when the pupils reach the end of it, there is another enticing piece of equipment waiting for them to play on.

Climbing towers can be great for discovery, too. Locating them in the centre of the playground means that when they climb to the top, they can see the all the other pieces of equipment spread out around them. You can add to this by putting a favourite piece of equipment facing the bottom of the slide.

If you have a quiet space that is sectioned off from the rest of the playground, divide it up into mini areas so children have to pass through secret gateways to get in. For example, your sand and water area may lead to a nature garden and from there to a sensory area.

3. Build in Elements of Risk

Managing risk is a life skill that all pupils need to learn and the school playground is the ideal place for them to do this in a safe and measured way. Risky play is also fun and can be a great way to boost self-confidence.

There are many pieces of outdoor play equipment that provide an element of risk. Balance beams, climbing walls, rope equipment and monkey bars, etc, provide pupils with exciting ways to challenge themselves and manage the risks they face. Of course, make sure all the equipment and playground surfacing is designed to keep your children as safe as possible.

4. Quiet Areas

All playgrounds should provide a quiet space for children. Some pupils won’t like noisy areas and will feel more comfortable and secure where it is less busy. Others will just want to take a break from playing on the bigger pieces of equipment.

If you already have a green space on your school grounds, then consider putting in some adequate seating or even some play huts and dens where small groups of friends can chat quietly together. If you haven’t a green space, you can create a nature zone with lots of planters, bird tables and bug houses. In warmer weather these are great places to take out paper and paints or to spread out some blankets and a box of books for children to read in the sunshine.

5. Use Zone To Cater For Different Groups

A well-designed playground will be inclusive and cater for the needs of all pupils. One of the best ways to achieve this is to divide it into clearly defined zones so that there is a range of different activities available for all.

Discussing the design with your pupils will help you understand what kinds of things they would like and this can be useful when deciding on the zones you want to include. Typically, you’ll find children wanting a sports area, a climbing or obstacle course area, an area for roleplay and creative play, a quiet/nature area and, for younger children, a water, mud and sand play area. Older children will also want an area where they just can ‘hang out’.

Another reason for creating zones is that if you design a playground around a single piece of premium equipment, you may find that this gets monopolised by the more dominant children and the rest get left out. By all means, install that equipment, but make sure there are plenty of other things, including areas that will attract the dominant kids too.  

Conclusion

Designing a school playground that works for all your pupils can be a challenge. It involves a great deal of collective input and with space and budget considerations, there may need to be some compromises before a final decision can be made. If you are considering installing a new playground at your school ESP Play offer a free playground design service which can help you make the best choices for your school. Alternatively, give us a call on 01282 43 44 45, we’ll be happy to help.

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