How to Turn Your Playground into a Primary Science Lab

Teaching science in primary schools can be a difficult task. Unlike in secondaries, which have fully equipped labs and specialist science technicians, primary teachers have to deliver the curriculum in the same room that they teach all their other lessons and with very limited equipment on hand. Many schools, however, are finding that their playground is the ideal place to teach many aspects of the primary science curriculum and in this post, we’ll show you why.

Space to experiment

Science is one of those subjects that requires pupils to get up and move around. Children need to get involved in carrying out experiments; observing, measuring and recording things that happen. It’s hard to do that in a classroom where tables are laid out for more book and pen style learning and where space to move is limited. At the same time, science can be messy. Secondary science labs are designed for easy tidying up and quick cleaning, multi-purpose primary classrooms aren’t. They are often carpeted, which doesn’t bode well when kids are chucking soil or water around and they lack the storage space to make getting and returning equipment easy.

In the playground, however, there is much more space to carry out experiments and messy floors are not an issue. As for equipment, you can install it in the playground for the children’s use, so it is always accessible.

Setting up a science garden

The study of plants and animals is a key focus of Key Stage 1 and 2 science and requires children to be able to identify, name and describe the structure of common plants, trees and animals; explore habitats and learn about food chains; and look at how plants grow and develop.

All these things can be done in the playground by creating a small but well-equipped science garden. Planters and trellises can be used to grow a variety of different plants for the children to study and equipment such as a discovery planter will let children see roots grow under the soil and enable them to measure plant growth. For those experiments where everyone in the class gets the chance to plant their own seed and watch it grow, a growing tree is the ideal solution as it will house everyone’s plants. You can even use a growing board to compare the growth of different species.

When it comes to learning about animals in their own environment, there’s nothing better than installing a bug house. These provide the ideal living habitats for small insects and enable children to observe them at close quarters all year round. You can go even further by adding a bird table or a ladybird tower.

When teaching children how to identify different plant and animal species, why not consider our special nature boards? With colourful illustrations and clearly printed names, our range helps identify trees, creepy crawlies, seeds and other collectables and things that fly.

Studying the weather

The National Curriculum requires pupils to observe and describe the change of weather over the seasons and to make tables and charts about what they find. One of the best ways to make this possible is to install a weather station in the playground. This handy piece of equipment allows children to measure rainfall, temperature, air pressure and humidity, whilst recording sunshine, precipitation and wind. Readings can be placed on an outdoor plot board which children can use to record their readings on charts.

Playground sound lab

Primary pupils are expected to learn quite a lot about sound, including identifying how sounds are made; recognising that vibrations from sounds travel through a medium to the ear and get fainter over longer distances; finding patterns between the pitch of a sound and features of the object that produced it; and finding patterns between the volume and the strength of vibrations.

In the non-statutory guidance, it is recommended that these things are learnt through exploring different musical instruments. One way to enable this to happen is to create a playground sound lab by installing a range of specially designed outdoor musical instruments, such as chimes, drainpipe drums, xylophones and rain wheels. Instruments like these are easy to play and great fun, which is ideal for delivering enjoyable, though somewhat noisy, science lessons.

Other outdoor science resources

When it comes to outdoor music, drama and dance, there are times when the performers will want an audience. This could be for performing in front of friends at break, for peers during lessons or for parents in a formal production.

At ESP Play, we have the ideal selection of outdoor seating, such as log-built, tiered amphitheatres, log seats and storytelling chairs. We also have a wide range of shelters, including large octagonal shelters with seating and decked floors which are ideal for bandstands and performing theatre in the round.

Conclusion

Outdoor science equipment enables teachers to deliver the primary science curriculum in a fun and engaging way that will genuinely get the children enthused about their learning. The equipment available covers a wide range of the National Curriculum’s prescribed areas and enables pupils to have the space and facilities to undertake real observations and carry out experiments on the world around them.

For more information, visit our Science Outdoor Curriculum page.

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How to Create an Expressive Arts Playground

Expressive arts are an important part of children’s education, enabling pupils to develop critical thinking, communication skills, creativity and a wider understanding of cultural diversity. However, with a curricular emphasis on more academic subjects and a lack of facilities, many children lack the opportunities to get involved. In this post, we’ll look at ways that schools can utilise their playgrounds to widen pupils’ access to expressive arts.

Outdoor music

Outdoor Playground Music Equipment

Children love making music but many of them struggle to play instruments. Even if they can, schools tend to keep their own instruments under lock and key because they are expensive to buy, so there is little chance to use them. There is, however, a helpful alternative: outdoor music equipment. Outdoor instruments are designed to be used by all children, including those that have not learned to play. Percussive in nature, they include drainpipe drums, drum tables, xylophones, chimes, washboards and rain wheels. There is even a talking tube that can be used as a natural microphone for those wishing to make their own noises.

Together, these instruments allow children to work together to create their own rhythms and tunes, to learn how the instruments work and explore a range of different sounds, patterns and playing techniques. As they are installed in the playground, they can be used during free time or used as part of the music curriculum.

Drama

Drama is a vital subject that enables pupils to explore and develop an understanding of a wide range of things: literary texts, moral dilemmas, cultural values and the thoughts and feelings of others. It can be used to help children feel empathy, solve problems and resolve issues, such as when acting out a bullying situation. It’s also great for developing performance and communication skills and improving confidence.

Children’s love of acting develops at an early age where they enjoy playing different characters in imaginative situations. To encourage this creativity, there is a selection of playground drama resources that schools can install. To get children actively engaged in role play, we have a stimulating range of imaginative outdoor equipment that includes trains, bridges, tunnels, shop kiosks, carriages, mud kitchens and play huts.

For more focused drama, there are also outdoor performance stages which can be used in curriculum time for exploring themes and set texts or to rehearse and perform school productions. Available in a range of sizes and shapes, they include a proscenium arch to create the ideal outdoor theatre setting.

Dance

With troupes like Diversity winning Britain’s Got Talent, dance has become ‘cool’ again for young people, including older boys who often shy away from the traditional dance styles. With dance being part of the PE curriculum, it is important to encourage everyone to participate and this can be done very simply by installing the outdoor performance stages mentioned above and providing students with a speaker from which to listen to the music they want to dance to. At secondary schools, most pupils will have their favourite tracks saved on their phones: purchasing a battery-operated Bluetooth speaker would enable them to play their music loud enough so they can create dance moves to it.

Art

Art in school should not just be about developing technical skills and learning about past masters. Instead, children should be given the freedom to explore their creativity by drawing or painting what they want in the way they find best expresses their ideas – even if, artistically, it doesn’t have technical merit.

The resources needed to have this artistic freedom should be an essential part of any expressive arts playground. ESP Play’s outdoor art equipment is ideal for this as it enables children to do imaginative artwork whenever they like. Our resources include painting stations, whiteboards, chalkboards and for exploring a different media, we even have a weaving board for those with an interest in fabrics. All our outdoor boards are interchangeable, simple to clean and can be used during free time or in lessons.

Outdoor performance spaces

When it comes to outdoor music, drama and dance, there are times when the performers will want an audience. This could be for performing in front of friends at break, for peers during lessons or for parents in a formal production.

At ESP Play, we have the ideal selection of outdoor seating, such as log-built, tiered amphitheatres, log seats and storytelling chairs. We also have a wide range of shelters, including large octagonal shelters with seating and decked floors which are ideal for bandstands and performing theatre in the round.

Conclusion

All pupils should be given the opportunity to express themselves artistically and discover different art forms. Unfortunately, there is too little opportunity to do this during the school week. However, by creating an expressive arts playground or even an expressive arts zone within a larger playground, pupils can access inspirational equipment whenever they are free. The equipment can be used in lesson times too.

If you need guidance on designing an expressive arts playground, call us on 01282 43 44 45 or check out the product links in the post above.

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ALLGO+ The Best School Gym Solution

A well-equipped gym gives schools a lot of opportunities; it can be used as part of the PE curriculum, for helping young athletes train and for students and staff to use for keeping fit. Unfortunately, not every school has the space for a gym and some lack the budget for the very expensive apparatus.

Another concern is that any equipment that involves weights and moving parts requires constant supervision when children are using it. There is, however, a solution for all these problems which is designed especially for secondary schools: the ALLGO+ Gym. Here, we’ll take a look at how it could be the ideal gym for your school.

The outdoor gym

With lack of space being an issue for many schools, one big advantage of the ALLGO+ gym is that is designed to be installed outdoors. The individual pieces of apparatus are permanently erected so there is no need to keep bringing them in and out of the storeroom every time you want to use them. Once it is installed, it stays there, ready for use whenever you need.

Of course, as an outdoor gym, everything is designed for outdoor use. The construction materials are robust, durable and manufactured to last in the open.

Safe, weights-free equipment

One of the problems with traditional gym equipment, like free weights and weights machines, is that they are not safe for children to use unsupervised. ALLGO+ equipment, however, doesn’t use weights at all, instead, it is a bodyweight only fitness system. In other words, pupils will use their own bodyweight on the apparatus in order to develop strength and fitness. Being weights-free means there is no chance of injury from students dropping heavy equipment or to back or muscle damage from lifting too much weight.

Full body fitness

The ALLGO+ outdoor gym has a range of equipment designed to develop strength and muscle tone in all areas of the body. Here is a breakdown of the equipment:

  • Leg rise

The ALLGO+’s hanging leg rise is ideal for developing abdominal and core strength, improving all abdominal muscles, including the lower abs and obliques.

  • Monkey bars

When students work their way along the monkey bars, they will be using and developing their lats, biceps, abdominal, oblique and deltoid muscles. This is done not just by pulling upwards and across, but also from using the muscles to stabilise the body’s position and balance as it moves.

  • Press-up bars

The ALLGO+ comes with three different press-up bars all at different heights: 300, 550 and 700mm. When first starting out, children may find press-ups hard to do. Placing their hands on the bars will make the exercise a little easier while they develop strength. At the opposite end of the scale, stronger students can rest their feet on the bars and push up from the floor. Here, the higher the bar, the more difficult the press up.

Press-ups are not only excellent for developing arm, shoulder and chest muscles, they can also help with back, leg and abs, too.

  • Pull-up bars

The ALLGO+ provides two pull up bars, one being shorter than the other so that children of all heights can participate. Pull-ups are helpful for increasing arm, back, abdominal and grip strength. As a multi-joint exercise, pull-ups are great for helping pupils gain muscle mass.

  • Sit-up benches

The gym has three different sit-up benches, with increasing levels of challenge: level, inclined and steep. The steeper the incline, the more demanding the exercise.

Sit-ups can be used to develop a wide range of muscles, including abdominals, obliques, pectorals and the erector spinae, which help extend the back and give stability to the spine.

  • Step-up

The step-up apparatus can be used with and without additional weights and is ideal for developing leg strength. It is also helpful for improving balance and stability.

  • Ring step and fast feet markings

These markings enable students to add some cardio exercise to their workout, which is great for burning calories, improving heart health, agility and stamina.

  • Circle steps

This fun apparatus of rising steps placed in a circle around a central balance pole is designed to develop leg and core strength whilst improving balance and agility,

Cleverley signed

Each piece of equipment has an attached sign giving pupils information about how to use it, the muscle groups it develops and ideas for easy, medium and hard workouts. There is also an additional signpost which can be used to display health and safety notices.

Conclusion

As you can see, the ALLGO+ is the perfect solution for schools wanting a gym but which don’t have the necessary indoor space. It’s safe for children, always ready and can be used as part of the PE curriculum, for specialist training or can even be made available for pupils to exercise on during breaktimes, just like the equipment you now see at public parks.

If you are interested in an outdoor school gym, check out our ALLGO+ page.

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6 Tips for a Better School Playground

Over the seven years that a pupil attends your school, they’ll spend around 1,200 hours in the playground. That’s a long time. It’s no wonder, therefore, that so many schools are looking for ways to make their outdoor spaces better. And there are countless things you can do. To help you get started, here, are our top six tips.

1. Improve your playground surfaces

The foundation of any good playground is the surface that the children play on. This feature of your outdoor space has several functions to fulfil. It needs to be safe, durable, great to play on, easy to maintain and be suitable for any equipment you want to install.

Whilst asphalt and tarmac were the standard surfaces for many decades, today they are not seen as the ideal solution for a good playground. They are expensive to maintain and their hard surface can cause injury if children fall or scrape themselves. Also, they are not really suitable for putting underneath the climbing equipment that many playgrounds now have installed.

Instead, there is a variety of more modern playground surfacing that you can choose, depending on your requirements. This includes the very popular wetpour surfacing that provides a safe, cushioned surface that is perfect for laying under climbing equipment and ideal for all forms of physical activities. There is also artificial grass, rubber mulch, grass matting, block paving and, if you want a better hard surface, you can always opt for resin bound gravel.

2. Give children places to sit and shelter

Our second tip is to provide pupils with somewhere to sit and shelter. Not every child wants to run around during breaktimes and when it’s cold or very hot, shelter and shade provide some comfort from the weather.

To provide playground seating, consider installing wooden benches. These come in a range of designs including amphitheatre and hexagonal shapes which enable groups of friends to sit together. Alternatively, you can install picnic benches which are also useful for helping those with packed lunches find somewhere to eat outside.

As for shelter, there are quite a few playground shelters you can install. There is everything from large octagonal shelters with decked floors and built-in seating, to pergolas and sail shades. You can even add a few play huts and dens.

3. Add some greenery

Every playground should provide a sense of the outdoors and this wouldn’t be complete without a little bit of greenery. Whilst some schools are lucky enough to have this in abundance, others have to have a more creative approach. Here at ESP Play, our nature and garden selection of products can help you do this.

With a range of planters, trellises and growing boxes to choose from you can grow everything from small trees and shrubs to colourful flower displays. Trellises are also a great way to turn drab walls into vibrant green areas.

4. Install traditional games markings

If you are looking for an affordable way to encourage children to participate in physical activities during their breaks and lunchtimes then playground markings are the ideal answer. Sports marking can provide your pupils with just the right incentive to play football, netball, basketball and a range of different sports. There are also markings for other fun and games activities, traditional and more modern.

5. Add a touch of excitement

Increasingly, schools are now installing far more exciting playground equipment as part of their playground mix. This includes obstacle courses, climbing frames, traversing walls, play towers and even parkour equipment. Designed for safety, these items are great fun to play on and get the children active during their free time. They are also helpful in developing a whole range of skills, getting pupils to problem solve, take risks, face challenges and become more resilient.

The fun doesn’t need to end there. There are also outdoor musical instruments, mud kitchens, water and sand equipment and a whole lot more. No matter what your pupils’ age, abilities or interests, there is something to excite everyone.

6. Create different play zones

Our final tip is not about the types of products you can install in your school playground, but about how you install them. Over the years, we have found out that dividing your playground into different zones is the best solution. This provides safety by enabling you to put the more physical activities in areas where they are likely to cause less harm or damage: you don’t want children traversing a wall to be knocked off by a high-flying soccer ball, for instance.

Zoning can also help you to manage the playground and supervise pupils better. You can keep older children away from younger ones, or place noisy activities away from quieter ones.

Conclusion

If you are looking for ways to improve your playground, hopefully, the tips we have provided here will help. Adding modern surfacing, places to sit and shelter, greenery, playground markings and a selection of exciting equipment can transform your outdoor space and the way your pupils use it, especially if it is divided into zones.

If you are looking to improve your playground, check out our range of products or look at our free playground design service.

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4 Reasons to Change Your Playground Surfacing

A lot of schools still use traditional playground surfacing like asphalt or tarmac, however, over time and with constant use they degrade: edges crumble, busy pathways wear away and bare patches begin to appear. Surfacing materials like loose gravel and bark mulch also deteriorate. Paying for regular repairs and maintenance that can leave your playground looking like a patchwork quilt is not always the cost-effective solution. Modern playground surfacing uses materials that are safer, longer lasting and better value for money. In this post, we’ll look at four reasons why it might be time to change your playground surfacing.

1. Your current playground surface is a safety hazard

Safeguarding has to be at the top of any school’s list of priorities and this includes making sure your playground doesn’t put children at risk. If there are obvious signs that your current surface is becoming defective, it may become a safety hazard.

Defective surfacing can cause children to trip or slip, risking broken bones or head injuries. Loose gravel is not only slippery but can also be sharp and break the skin. Materials like bark mulch, which is biodegradable, can cause splinters when it begins to break down and if it is harbouring fungi or unsavoury microbes, could cause an infection.

Besides the risk of injury, there are financial implications, too. As many schools will testify, there are quite a lot of parents today who will head straight to the solicitors if their child gets hurt in the playground. A tumble on the tarmac often results in a significant settlement.

2. Playground maintenance has become expensive

Another reason you may want to change your playground surfacing is if you are continually having to spend a lot of money on its upkeep. Resurfacing tarmac or asphalt doesn’t come cheaply, even if you are only patching specific areas. If this is happening constantly, that money could be more wisely spent on a safer and longer lasting solution that won’t need so much maintenance. The same applies to re-gravelling or replenishing bark mulch.

There are hidden savings to be made from investing in a better surface too. For example, a safer surface may reduce your liability insurance costs. You may also cut down the number of hours that your caretaking staff need to spend looking after your surfacing. Bark, for example, get easily blown around creating potential slip hazards. By replacing it, it won’t need to be swept up every time it gets a little windy.

3. Better surfaces, cleaner schools

Many traditional surfaces can be dirty, especially in the rain; particularly areas surfaced with grass or soil which become muddy after they have been trampled on by a swarm of school kids. Of course, when the bell goes, all this dirt gets brought into school.

Mud left by one child quickly becomes a trip hazard for those following behind, especially on stairs or tiled flooring. You also end up with a completely messy floor, littered with pale grey footprints, that your caretaking staff will need to spend time cleaning and polishing after school. Of course, when the mud dries, all those tiny bits of grit are going to scrape the shine off your newly varnished wooden floors, shortening the amount of time the varnish will last. If you have carpets, they too are going to get dirty and will need cleaning more regularly.

Modern surfacing is much cleaner and whilst it won’t fully eradicate every piece of dirt that gets brought into school, it can help reduce it, meaning less wear and tear of your indoor flooring and less time needed to keep it clean.

4. Your playground is a dreary space

When children play together, especially in larger numbers, there is more opportunity for them to develop important social skills. Many of the markings used for sports and games will help pupils with key skills such as turn taking, patience, respect for others and empathy.

At the same time, children will need to interact in order to play together or when asking other children for a turn on a game. This will help them become better negotiators and improve their ability to resolve disputes. It can also lead to new friendships.

Is it time for a change?

Great playground surfacing can revitalise your outdoor environment. Surfaces can be created from a range of materials and colours and come with a wide range of playground markings that create sports pitches and games areas.

There are several examples of modern surfacing that are worth a mention. A highly popular solution is Wetpour surfacing. Wetpour is a soft surface that is very effective in reducing injury from falls. It’s ideal for putting under climbing equipment or for areas where children are involved in active play. What’s more, it’s long lasting, colourful and can be created in a range of intricate designs.

If you currently use bark mulch on your play areas, a safer, cheaper and longer lasting alternative is to use rubber mulch. Made from recycled tyres, this coated, shredded rubber comes in a range of colours and can even look like natural bark. However, unlike bark, it’s bound together, so it doesn’t get blown away, can’t get chucked around and doesn’t rot.

If you need a hard surface, then a much better alternative to asphalt or tarmac is resin bound gravel, a highly attractive surface with a smooth finish using naturally coloured stones bonded together using resin. Tough, long-lasting and available in a range of colours, it’s the ideal hard surface.

If you want grassy areas that don’t get muddy, there are two other surfacing options. You can cover existing grassed areas in grass matting or you can replace your natural grass with artificial grass. This is great for sports areas and comes with the advantage of never needing to be watered, fed or mowed.

For more information about all our surfaces, check out our playground surfacing page.

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