Flat on Inspiration? Why Landscaping is the New Playground Trend

school playground landscaping

Traditionally, playgrounds have always been flat. Indeed, natural undulations were often levelled out to make them flat. Today, however, research tells us that adding mounds, ramps and other raised features brings both educational and play benefits while improving the overall aesthetic of the playground. Here we look at why landscaping has become the new trend in playground design.

New dimensions, new challenges

Landscaped playgrounds are intrinsically more interesting for children to explore and bring a whole new dynamic to play and outdoor learning. Mounds, for example, are features that demand to be climbed and conquered, to roll down, to chase friends around, to stand on top of and view the landscape from a different perspective. In this sense, they are rich in play and development opportunities and provide valuable new challenges for children.

Adding a vertical dimension provides enhanced physical play that, through moving uphill and downhill and manoeuvring around landscaped contours, helps speed up the development of important gross motor skills and coordination, while improving overall strength and fitness.

Kinaestheic skills

Research has shown that the new activities which raised landscaping provides, such as climbing, jumping and rolling, helps with the development of kinaesthesia, the body's ability to sense action, movement and location. Often considered a sixth sense, it is these skills that allow people to move without thinking about the next step – we develop the ability to understand where our bodies are in relation to the things around us and know the next movement.

The ups and downs of problem-solving

As adults, we probably don’t think too much about negotiating a climb, but if you are a child, playground mounds, bridges, ramps and climbing equipment throw up a number of intriguing problems that need to be solved. How many ways can they get to the top and down again? Which are the best ways? How physically demanding will it be? Have they the strength to get up? What’s the safest way to go?

Of course, by giving it a go and playing on these features, they are able to answer those questions, solve those problems and transfer what they have learnt to help them tackle other challenges. At the same time, children are given new chances to assess, manage and take risks.

An island of opportunity

In a sea of busy play, the peak of a playground knoll can also become an island of retreat; one where older children, especially, like to enjoy the vantage point to chat with their friends and watch what others do in the playground.

Risen platforms can also become so much else, providing endless role play and other opportunities: a desert island for pirates and buried treasure, the home of a giant, a strange new planet, the back of a whale. What’s more, when you build bridges to them or put tunnels under them, there is even more potential for creative play.

Defining the space

Raised mounds also have practical uses that can help make the playground safer. They can be used to separate different play zones, particularly when you don’t want the activities in one zone to interfere with what’s going on in another. Even if the raised area is only low, it can stop children from spilling over, direct them to a safer route and prevent things like footballs from going astray. A gentle rise in level is also great for slowing down traffic in busy areas, reducing the risk of children colliding.

A more inviting environment

There is nothing inviting or inspiring about a flat playground surfaced with grey asphalt. Today, there is a wider range of surfacing types to choose from, including rubber mulch, wetpour, resin-bound gravel, block paving and artificial grass. And the spectrum of colours these come in enable schools and nurseries to create vibrant and exciting places to play and learn.

With landscaping, this can now be achieved in 3D, whether that’s the addition of an artificially grassed knoll or a brightly coloured, wetpour mound as part of the overall design.

Conclusion

Landscaping your school playground by introducing raised areas and equipment, enhances the entire topography. It brings new features that add to the aesthetic and make the space more fun to explore. This inspires children to participate in a wider range of play and develop new skills more quickly. Additionally, raised areas can be used to enhance safety and to create quiet zones where children can sit together with interesting views of what’s going on in the rest of the playground.

If you are considering redesigning your school playground, why not take advantage of ESP Play’s free playground design service?

 

 

(0)

How Outdoor Play Helps Overcome Pandemic Disruption

How Outdoor Play Helps Overcome Pandemic Disruption

As schools across the UK look for ways to mitigate the impact of the pandemic on learning and academic progress, there have been calls to lengthen school days, offer summer schools and implement a wide range of catch-up classes. While no doubt there is a lot of intervention being planned, school leaders should also consider the role of the playground in addressing some of the key learning skills that may have regressed over the last 18 months. Here, we look at how this can be addressed through outdoor play.

Cooperative learning

With long periods of isolation and social distancing, the opportunities for children to collaborate will have been few and far between over the last 18 months. With paired and group work being important elements of modern classroom practice, children need these skills to learn more effectively, especially when trying to catch up on missed work and reach the attainment targets that they are capable of.

Helping children relearn their rusty collaboration skills can be achieved in the playground with fun equipment that requires them to work together. A Trim Trails obstacle course, for example, is perfectly designed to challenge small teams of children to complete. Getting from start to finish requires them to work together to find the best route and help each other navigate different obstacles.

Personal effectiveness

Personal effectiveness covers a range of skills that pupils need to manage their workloads and learning, for example, setting themselves targets and goals, segmenting larger projects into manageable chunks and developing resilience and determination.

The playground provides many opportunities for children to hone these skills through play. Free Flow climbing frames, for instance, have a succession of different challenges for children to overcome to complete a circuit. Pupils can set themselves goals about which routes to take, so they can up the challenge over time; they will need to manage their route through the circuit by breaking it down into the individual obstacles, and with occasional failures cropping up, they’ll need resilience to get the job finished. All these skills, of course, are transferable.

Creativity

Sitting at the very apex of Bloom’s Taxonomy, developing a child’s creative skills is key to helping them achieve the highest levels of learning. Facilitating creativity is often best achieved when giving children the freedom to produce something new. The time when children have the most freedom to be creative is during break times when they are outdoors.

Creativity can be encouraged and fostered by providing pupils with the right outdoor resources. These include resources for art and design, whether that’s to get children painting and drawing, sandcastle building or sticking and gluing twigs and leaves to make nature art. Inspiration can also come in the guise of outdoor percussion instruments, which need little in the way of skill but provide endless ways to create unique rhythms and beats, often through working together with a small ensemble.

Communication skills

Person to person communication is vital to successful learning but children have had little opportunity to develop these skills throughout the pandemic. Refreshing and enhancing skills such as turn-taking, listening, questioning, negotiating and presenting, has to be a priority for schools over the next few years. For younger children, especially, the chance to do so comes from the much-loved playground activity of role play, where pupils can invent a multitude of different situations and take on the role of real and imagined characters.

Role play comes naturally to children; however, they prefer to do it in the freedom of the playground where they aren’t being watched by teachers. At the same time, the amount of role play that takes place and the quality of the interactions that children improvise depends to a great extent on the facilities and resources on hand. Providing props and settings that inspire role play and which help children take their imaginations to different places and situations is important to make the most of these opportunities for developing communication skills. With a wide range of inspirational role play playground equipment now available, including shop kiosks, stages, storytelling chairs, play huts, bridges, carriages, trains and boats, there are plenty of ways to create the perfect role play zone in any playground.

Conclusion

Schools are under intense pressure to help pupils recover from the disruption of the pandemic. Of key importance here, is the need to address any regression in the learning skills that are so important to progress and achievement. While interventions can be implemented in the classroom, school leaders should not underestimate the valuable role that outdoor play can help in mitigating the impact of school absence on learning. With the right playground equipment and ample time to play, there is real potential to gain lost ground quickly.

For more information, visit our Products page.

 

(0)

How to Teach STEM in the Playground

Teaching STEM in the playground

When teachers think about teaching STEM subjects, (science, technology, engineering and maths) the playground is perhaps the last place they imagine delivering those lessons. However, STEM is about integrating those subjects and thinking out of the box, so perhaps it's time to reconsider the outdoor space as somewhere where children can get value from those subjects. Here are some of the reasons to teach STEM in the playground and the equipment you can use to help you.

STEM in the outdoor space

The great thing about being outdoors is that it provides far more space to conduct experiments and, in some cases, it’s by far the safest place to do them. If you really want to test how high those air propelled rockets your class has designed are going to reach, a room with an 8-feet high ceiling and shed loads of expensive equipment all around isn’t ideal. Indeed, any experiment that involves testing propulsion is best conducted where there is space to do so and where children can watch from a safe distance.

It's not just propulsion, either; there are occasions where STEM projects will require building big things, like towers or bridges that there simply isn’t room for inside the classroom. The playground, on the other hand, is perfect, especially if the teacher has resources like outdoor, standalone whiteboards, etc., to write instructions on and for children to note down the results of their experiments.

Make the most of nature

If you want to teach your pupils about natural sciences, then it's best to study things outdoors in their natural environment instead of bringing them inside. If pupils are studying how plants grow, their experiments aren’t going to be accurate if they are studying plants left on the windowsill in a classroom. Instead, provide them with a playground growing tree with enough room for everybody’s plants to grow in natural conditions, such as sunlight, heat, wind and rain. For more detailed analysis, why not use a discovery planter so they can see the formation of the roots as well as the upper part of the plant, and examine things like soil, water penetration and the creatures that live in the soil and affect the microenvironment.

You can also install bird feeders and bug houses, etc., for close examination of the fauna that lives in the local environment and to monitor their numbers and behaviour. It's an opportunity for real science that can complement the theoretical work going on in the classroom.

It’s not just biology that can be studied either. With a weather station, for example, pupils can monitor things like precipitation, air pressure, temperature, wind direction, etc. and study how weather changes over time and relate this to seasonal changes or the impact of global warming.

With a range of curriculum-focused, scientific, wall or post-mounted, switchable work boards to choose from, students are able, while in the playground, to measure and track changes, write down their discoveries and make connections between them.

Give maths a new dimension

While maths has enabled theoretical physicists to calculate numerous dimensions, school maths can be a rather one-dimensional subject. For many children, the biggest challenge is not the difficulty of the work but the continual book and pen exercises. Getting outside into the playground can help them break the cycle of doing things in a book and give them a new and more engaging way to explore the subject. What’s more, you can use the outside world to contextualise the exercises being done, asking them to calculate real-life things so that they have genuine meaning.

There is also a whole range of maths resources that can be installed in the playground to help. These include tessellation and coordinates boards, tangram tables, symmetry boards and soma cubes. If you want to get even more adventurous, there are playground dominoes games and even a traversing wall that is designed for following sequences or calculations.

When it comes to design and technology, there are also outdoor classroom work boards for weaving and isometric drawing.

Conclusion

In a world where science and technology are so important, it is vital to inspire young minds to develop an interest in STEM subjects. Working outdoors frees up the mind to new ideas and provides a whole lot more for students to explore and experiment on. Now, with lots of new STEM-based outdoor curriculum equipment available to schools, teaching STEM has never been easier.

For more information about our outdoor STEM products, visit our Outdoor Curriculum page.

(0)

Inspire the Next Olympians With Playground Sports Equipment

Children's wellbeing

Big sporting events, like the Tokyo Olympic Games, lead many youngsters to dream of being a world-class sportsperson. While few will achieve those dizzy heights, many others will be inspired to take part, finding a life-long passion for sport and adopting a healthier lifestyle in the process. To keep those dreams alive, schools need to provide children with the opportunity to take part. With that in mind, here are some of the best playground sports equipment available today.

Sports surfacing

Providing opportunities to take part in playground sports, whether in PE lessons or during play, starts with great surfacing. Replacing tired, asphalt surfaces that are worn and patchy with resin-bound gravel makes them easier and safer to play on. For sports that require grass surfacing, such as soccer, rugby, lawn tennis and so forth, moving to artificial grass can make life so much easier. Artificial grass doesn’t need cutting or weeding, it doesn’t get boggy and slippery in wet weather and it doesn’t dry out and go patchy in the summer. It stays perfect to do sports all year round, ensuring learning and training can continue uninterrupted.

Sports markings

Inexpensive, long-lasting and quick and easy to install, sports markings can transform a blank playground surface into a range of clearly marked out sports pitches, courts and training areas that can be used for both PE and play.

There are a variety of pitch and court markings, including those for football, netball, tennis, rounders and cricket. For those with smaller playground spaces, you can even have a multi-court, where different colours are used to create different pitches in the same space. You can even get multi-sport accessories to match, such as a football goal with a basketball net attached.

As for training, there are a wide variety of multi-skills markings available, including fast-feet steppers, target trainers, grid squares and even a purpose-built multi-skill zone.

Create your own MUGA

A dedicated Multi-Use Games Area or MUGA can transform your sports facilities, expanding your PE and extracurricular provision and providing children with far more opportunities to learn and take part in new sports.

If you are looking to create a MUGA, the team at ESP Play can help you design one that meets your needs. We’ll help you choose the best place to locate the area at your school and how to arrange things within the space to fulfil your requirements. We’ll help find the right solutions for surfacing and marking and explain the best accessory equipment to ensure you fully equip your outdoor sports facilities, for example, with things like ball walls, multi goals, wall targets, fitness markings and so forth.

Outdoor gyms

Whether you’re looking to inspire the next Olympic weightlifting champion or just want to give children the opportunity to increase their strength and fitness, the AllGo+ Gym is the ideal playground solution. With children lifting nothing more than their own body weight, it is safe enough for school use but provides a full suite of fitness equipment to enhance the development of every muscle group in the body.

Self-contained within its own, attractive octagonal area, professionally surfaced and laid out, it provides gym equipment that can be used widely in PE and even during supervised playtimes. Suitable for pupils over 1.4m (4ft. 6) tall, the gym includes pull-up bars, monkey bars, multi-height circle steps and press-up bars, level and inclined sit-up benches, step-ups, leg raisers and fitness markings for agility and balance. For health and safety purposes, every element is labelled and displays clear instructions about the exercises it is to be used for and the correct and safe way to do them.

A Daily Mile track

A British initiative, the Daily Mile has been taken up by over 12,000 schools in 84 countries and now has over 3 million children running, walking and wheel-chairing a mile every day. Designed to improve general health, fitness and wellbeing, as well as tackle issues like childhood obesity, it’s also inspired many youngsters to take up long distance sports. Who knows, the next David Weir, Mo Farah or Paula Radcliffe could be amongst them?

With many schools not having enough space for a full-length daily mile route, the solution of choice for many is to install a Daily Mile track that they can do laps of around the school. Providing a suitable track surface ensures that all members of the school community can take part, including wheelchair users, while providing the ideal training conditions for those who want to take the sport more seriously.

Conclusion

The UK has a long tradition of producing world-class sportspeople and for this to continue, the children of today need the inspiration and opportunities to take part in a wider range of sports activities. Equipping your playground ensures this can happen while also enabling everyone to participate in healthy activities.

For more information about ESP Play outdoor sports equipment and more, visit our Products page.

(0)

5 Things To Do With School Playgrounds in Summer Holidays

Children's wellbeing

With only a few weeks left of the school year, minds will be focussed on the much-needed holiday and in making plans for September. The summer break, however, is the ideal time to work on the school playground. With no children around for weeks on end, there is plenty of opportunity to carry out essential work and make improvements. You can also put your playground to good use during summer, too. Here, we’ll look at some of the options.

1. Inspect playground equipment

School playgrounds should have an annual RPII inspection to ensure that all their playground equipment and surfacing are safe to use and fit for purpose. The best time to get this done is at the beginning of the summer holidays; this way, if any remedial work is necessary, you have the time to get it completed before the children arrive back in school.

Annual inspections not only ensure that equipment is safe; they also extend equipment and surfacing lifespans. A minor repair now can prevent more extensive and potentially costly repair or replacement bills further down the line.

ESP Play Inspection Services are carried out by a fully qualified RPII inspector who will examine your playground to ensure it complies with BS EN 1176. We provide a detailed report about the condition of your playground and each piece of equipment and, where necessary, we will make recommendations about maintenance to ensure safety and to comply with standards.

2. Replace tired equipment

No matter how well you look after your surfacing and equipment, heavy use and weathering mean eventually they will need replacing. At the same time, apparatus that begins to look old and tired can lose its appeal to children and seldom get used anymore.

If you have such equipment in your playground, the summer break is the perfect time to get it replaced so that your new pieces are ready for your pupils as they return in September. What better way to kick off the academic year than to give the kids something new and exciting to play on? And with fantastic playground equipment being added to our collection all the time, ESP Play has everything you need.

3. Look after nature areas

While nature can usually take care of itself over the summer holidays, anything in planters will need regular watering, especially if there are long periods without rain -  otherwise, those expensive plants might die off.

Similarly, lawns, sports fields and grassed playing areas might need an occasional sprinkling and a lawn feed to keep the grass green and lush. Before children return, grassed sports and playing areas will also need mowing to ensure that surfaces are suitable for play and that any potentially harmful litter (e.g., glass) hidden in the long grass can be spotted and removed.

If the maintenance of grassed play areas is becoming a burden, it is always possible to replace these with artificial grass – an alternative that stays green, never needs mowing and which looks just as good as the real thing.

4. Repair or replace surfacing

After the frosts of winter and the heavy spring rain, older playground surfacing can need repair or in the worst cases, replacing altogether. Repairing or replacing a playground surface is best done when the weather is fine and, as it means putting it temporarily out of action, when no one is going to be using it for a while. The summer holidays make this the ideal time.

Repairing potholes, fraying edges, loose stones and raised slabs quickly prevents more extensive deterioration later on – something caused by both heavy use and weathering. Failure to tackle these can also make your playground hazardous for use and lead to injury.

If your surfaces need replacing, it might be the right time to consider newer types of surfacing. Resin-bound gravel is a superior alternative to asphalt or tarmac, being long-lasting, self-draining, low-maintenance and available in different colours. Wetpour surfacing, meanwhile, has become highly popular in EYFS and primary playgrounds because its fall-cushioning properties help reduce bumps, bruises and broken bones.

5. Open your playground during the holidays

Children have had little opportunity for outdoor play during the pandemic and this has had an impact on their mental health. Away from their friends for another six weeks during summer, access to a playground could play a vital role in improving their wellbeing. Unfortunately, at the time they need it most, many public playgrounds are being closed because local councils don’t have the finances to maintain them.

While it’s possibly not feasible to open playgrounds to the public in general, there are many local childcare providers, summer activity clubs, etc., that would jump at the chance to use them at certain times of the day or week. This way, the playground would be used by professionals who could ensure school property was treated respectfully and that the small numbers of children using the equipment would be supervised. It may even be a way to earn a little extra cash for the school.

Conclusion

With six weeks of downtime, the summer holidays offer schools the potential to inspect, maintain, repair and even update their playgrounds. At the same time, with children needing a safe and well-equipped place for outdoor play, there is the opportunity to help your pupils and children from the wider local community make the most of the summer break.

For more information about our playground equipment, visit our Products page.

(0)

Product Enquiry