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.


How to Encourage Role Play in the Playground

Role play is an essential element of child development. Not only is it great fun, it helps develop children’s creativity, communication, confidence and problem-solving skills. By adopting the persona of made-up, real life or fictional characters, children can act out scenarios that enable them to learn and understand the world better. It helps them develop key social skills, too. In this post, we’ll look at the ways schools can help encourage pupils to participate in and benefit from role play.

1. No grown-ups, please

The most beneficial form of role play is that which is child-led. When children develop their own scenarios, they are likely to be more engaged in what they are doing. They will often bring to the role play their own ideas and thus explore the issues that they may be concerned about or which interest them the most.

Child-led role plays are most effective when pupils feel uninhibited. If they feel that teachers are listening in, it might restrict what they are saying. For this reason, it is always a good decision to monitor the action from a distance.

Perhaps the best location for role play is in the playground. Here children automatically know that free play is allowed and that staff are only there to ensure safety. With this in mind, they are more apt to get involved. Similarly, the playground provides the space for children to split off into groups where they can interact with others who they feel comfortable with – and this, too, gives greater scope for the creative mind to explore more freely.

2. Create zones in the playground

Children need space in which to carry our role play without interference from other activities which are taking place. One way to do this is to divide a playground into zones so that there is a range of clearly defined places for different activities.

In most well-designed playgrounds, children will typically want somewhere to play sports, a place for climbing or for an obstacle course, somewhere quiet, such as a nature area, and a place for role play and other creative activities.

Designing your playground layout can ensure that enough space is provided for each activity and that their location is in the safest area.

3. Provide pupils with props

Props and costumes are great for inspiring children to role play, and they don’t need to be an expensive purchase, either. In fact, most schools can usually put a collection together simply by asking parents to donate unwanted items: anything from old hats, bags, clothes, toys or anything else which can be used. If you need a place to keep the items, a simple, plastic, garden storage box is ideal for children to root through and replace items when finished. These are waterproof and so can be left outside.

4. Provide equipment that inspires role play

Another way to inspire children to start role play is to provide equipment that can spark their imagination. There is a wide selection of imaginary playground equipment which will encourage pupils to invent all sorts of imaginary worlds and create amazing scenarios to act out.

Take this tree trail thicket, inspired by the jungle. It puts children right in the heart of the action, giving them paths to follow and obstacles to conquer. It even has stepping stones in the style of ancient statues. It’s a great way to turn your playground into the set from Indiana Jones or Tomb Raider.

The thicket isn’t a standalone item, either, but just one of a range of products from our Wild Wood collection. You can embellish your forest themed role play area with crawl through logs, wigwams, forest play huts and slides in the shape of a tree.

Alternatively, you can use history to help with role play – ideal if its also part of the curriculum. Our Windsor Castle play tower provides the ideal inspiration to help children invent historical dramas. It’s also great fun with lots of challenges.

For ‘kitchen sink’ drama, where children can role play and explore everyday situations, try our selection of mud kitchens. These are great for younger children acting out parent-child domestic scenes whilst having fun cooking up mud pies at the same time.

Television can also be a great inspiration, so why not install a wooden train and let the children recreate the characters from Thomas the Tank Engine? There are all sorts of pieces of equipment you can install: magical distorting mirrors, shop kiosks, bridges, just to name a few.

5. Playground surfaces that inspire role play

It’s not just equipment that you can use to create an inspirational environment, you can also use playground markings too. This road way, for example, lets children play at being vehicle drivers. It can also teach them the basics of road safety.


Providing opportunities for children to participate in role play is a great way to help their development. Hopefully, this post will have shown you that the best way to do this is to give them the freedom to explore their ideas, a safe place to play, some helpful props and costumes, and a range of inspirational equipment. With these four things in place, you can easily provide the ideal environment for role play to take place.


5 Benefits of School Playground Markings

Are you looking for an affordable and effective way to breathe new life into a tired school playground? If you are, then playground markings may be the ideal solution. Inexpensive, easy to install and long-lasting, there are countless designs you can choose from and they bring many benefits to the school and the pupils.

Improving health and fitness

According to the NHS, children aged five to eighteen should have at least one hour of physical activity every day. Achieving this, however, is proving difficult. Many children don’t get regular exercise at home, PE time in school is limited, many schools have short lunch breaks with little time to play and lots of children aren’t active during free time.

The key to improving the health and fitness of your students is in getting them to be active during the limited time they are in the playground. For those with budgets that can’t stretch to climbing equipment or an outdoor gym, playground markings are the cost-effective option.

Installing sports markings, for example, can motivate large numbers of children to participate in team sports such as netball, football or basketball. There is also a wide range of markings designed especially for fun and games. There’s everything from mini roadways, to footwork chess, to a variety of hopscotch games.

Better PE provision

When schools install sports markings, they are getting resources that have a dual purpose. Not only can they helpful for getting children active, they can also be used for PE. The markings for pitches, mentioned above, can be used to extend the variety of sports that the school can teach. There are markings for football, futsal (five-a-side soccer), netball, basketball, cricket, tennis and rounders. If you are short of space, you can even install a multi-court which overlays different pitch markings in different colours.

In addition, there is a selection of physical skills markings that can be used, these can help with footwork, balance, agility, target practice, hurdles, bouncing and catching, etc. You can even set up a multi-skills zone.

Extending learning beyond the classroom

There are now playground markings designed to enhance the academic curriculum. Children love to play on these bright and attractively designed markings during break times and they can also be incorporated into outdoor lessons.

For literacy, there are markings such as alphabet targets, footwork vowels, letter steps and phonetic spots. For maths, there are 1-100 number grids, shapes and ladders, number arches, matrices and clock targets. For other subjects, you can choose from compass hopscotch, compass rings and weather markings.

At ESP Play, we even have markings designed to help younger children with road safety. These include mini roadways, zebra crossings, traffic lights, roundabouts (with direction arrows) and a mini car park.

Developing social skills

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.

Improving behaviour

According to Public Health England, physical activity has a direct link with classroom behaviour. Some of the main benefits you can achieve through helping children become more active are improved social behaviour, better peer relationships and reduced classroom disruption.

Through installing playground markings, schools are able to increase activity rates and reduce the boredom that often causes problems to start. A recent study by Leeds Metropolitan University of the effects of our playground installations in 167 schools found they increased pupil activity levels by 14%. There was also an 11% improvement in citizenship.

As a result of using playground markings, schools should see pupil behaviour improve and benefit from the increased attainment that comes from a less disruptive classroom. Better behaviour, both in the classroom and the playground, is also something that will please Ofsted inspectors, parents, staff and pupils.


Not every school has the resources to finance large-scale playground equipment. Budgets are tight, grants are not always available, and it can be difficult to raise the money through the PTA. However, that doesn’t mean upgrading your playground is a no-go project. Playground markings are an affordable solution that can transform your outdoor space and the activities that go on there. They can make pupils happier, healthier, socially more adept and improve behaviour. In addition, they can extend your PE provision and take learning out of doors.

For more information, check out our full range of playground markings, or call us on 01282 43 44 45.


Outdoor Sensory Play Solutions for EYFS

Providing EYFS pupils with opportunities for sensory play is key to helping them develop the skills and knowledge needed for the more challenging learning they will face in primary school. At this age, children rely on their five senses to explore the world around them and through this they learn to understand and find meaning in things. In this post, we’ll look at the importance of sensory play and at the resources you can use for your pupils.

Developing creativity

Deluxe Mud Kitchen

Sensory play is ideal for helping children to be creative. Give children access to one of our mud kitchens and within minutes they’ll be mixing up mud pies, building sand castles, cooking up strange, exotic meals and making unusual 3D shapes. They’ll also be learning about textures, material composition, weights and measures; all quite challenging concepts to explain in the classroom but easy to discover through play.

Sound play is also great for developing creativity. Children love to bang things to see what kind of noises they make, and with easy to play outdoor music equipment, such as drainpipe drums, chimes and xylophones, there’s a world of creative discoveries to be made. Children can learn how different instruments make different sounds, how size can affect notes or that the harder they hit an instrument the louder it gets. They can also explore rhythm and pattern and develop the skills to play the instruments.

Solving problems and making decisions

Problem solving and decision making are crucial cognitive skills that children need to develop, and sensory play offers plenty of opportunity for this. Our colour puzzle table, for example, challenges children to connect squares by using the correct colour combinations, similarly, our tower puzzle uses size and colour to develop skills in sequencing and patterns.

A more adventurous way to use sensory play for bringing on problem solving skills is to install one of our play towers or some Trim Trail obstacle course equipment. These are hands-on experiences where children need to explore different pathways in order to learn the best route to get from one end to the other. They will face problems along the way and have to make decisions about how to move forwards – all whilst having lots of fun climbing, swinging and sliding with their friends.

Getting kids talking

Sensory play can be the catalyst for linguistic development in young children. By using different senses to explore their environment, they are naturally motivated to express their feelings and describe their experiences. Obviously, the more experiences they have, the more opportunity they get to use language and thus develop a wider vocabulary through participation. Whether that’s splashing in a water play pool, watching bugs in an insect habitat, doing a spot of outdoor painting, or pretending to be Thomas the Tank Engine on a wooden play train is all down to the child’s curiosity.

Social and emotional skills

Sensory play can be the catalyst for linguistic development in young children. By using different senses to explore their environment, they are naturally motivated to express their feelings and describe their experiences. Obviously, the more experiences they have, the more opportunity they get to use language and thus develop a wider vocabulary through participation. Whether that’s splashing in a water play pool, watching bugs in an insect habitat, doing a spot of outdoor painting, or pretending to be Thomas the Tank Engine on a wooden play train is all down to the child’s curiosity.

Opening up the world

The idea behind sensory play is to open up all five senses to explore the world. Whilst taste is often best left to the kitchen and the canteen, outdoor play does provide ample opportunities for all four of the other senses.

When it comes to touch, outdoor sensory equipment provides a variety of textures, temperatures and shapes to discover: the warmth of a wooden beam, the shape of a puzzle piece, the roughness of a bark pit and the sliminess of mud. For sound, there are the chimes of a xylophone, the pounding of pipe drums, the splash of water and the twittering of birds at the bird table. Smell is always a difficult sense to cater for, however, at ESP Play we have an excellent solution with our outdoor planters which enable you to grow a wide variety of scent producing plants for children to experience. As for sight, our equipment comes in all shapes, sizes and patterns and can be brightly coloured, too. We have everything covered!


Providing opportunities for sensory play enables children to develop their sensual intelligence and from this, a whole range of important skills that will underpin their future learning – both in school and in day to day life. Hopefully, this article will have shown you the value of sensory play and given you some ideas of how to equip your EYFS playground.

For more information, call us on 01282 43 44 45 or check out our products page.


Healthy Schools Initiatives that Actually Work

Sedentary lifestyles and processed foods are having a huge impact on the nation’s health. 25% of UK children are overweight by the time they start reception and 10% are obese. By the time they leave for secondary school, the number of obese children doubles. This can lead to a lifetime of poor
eating and exercise habits that ultimately have a devastating effect on their health and life expectancy whilst also placing a huge burden on the NHS and social care. In addition, those who do not lead healthy lifestyles are likely to pass on their habits to their own children.

Tackling the UK’s poor eating and exercise habits has been an issue for some time and schools have
been given the challenge of trying to change that. Over the years there has been a succession of
initiatives from changing school menus, banning sweets, crisps and sugary drinks, the Healthy Active
Schools System, the Healthy Schools Awards and more. Schools now run countless programmes
including visiting experts, interactive displays, health orientated PSCHE lessons, cooking lessons for
parents and sporty afterschool activities.

However, according to a recent BBC report, ‘Anti-obesity programmes in schools don’t work’, many
of these initiatives are not having an impact. In a recent study by the University of Birmingham,
researchers set up a typical, school-based healthy lifestyle programme catering for 6 and 7-year- olds
in 26 local primary schools. 30 months later, their results showed that there had been “no significant
reductions in BMI and no improvements in energy expenditure, body fat measurements or activity
levels - compared with those not taking part.”

Why aren’t these initiatives working?

The simple answer is that teaching and doing are two different things. We can teach children and parents how to be healthy, give them opportunities to participate and point them in the direction where they can get exercise and healthy food, but this doesn’t change their habits. In this day and age, the majority of parents already know what’s needed to lead a healthy life. Unfortunately, their circumstances and lifestyle often get in the way.

With many families having two working parents, convenience is often top of the list when it comes to the weekly shopping. You can cook a frozen pizza and chips in the oven in 20 minutes and it can be hard not to when the kids demand tea as soon as you get home from work. Following on from this is price: the cost of the weekly shop has risen significantly while wages have remained static. Families are buying less expensive foods which are often higher in fats, sugars and additives.

And, of course, families live sedentary lifestyles. It's not just that children spend all their time on phones and gadgets: many parents don’t let their kids play out anymore. The last thing parents feel like doing after a busy day at work, making the tea, washing up, getting the uniforms ready and making packed lunches, is to take the family out for some exercise. They are tired, worn out and want nothing more than to put their feet up and watch a boxed set. The kids, meanwhile are left face-timing friends and watching their favourite YouTube stars.

It is little wonder, therefore, that healthy lifestyle initiatives geared simply towards educating are failing to have an impact.

What does work?

Helping children reduce weight is all about maths. If their calorie intake is less than the amount they expend, they’ll lose weight. If it’s more, they’ll put weight on. The best approach, therefore, is to tackle it from both ends. Firstly, by reducing the amount of unhealthy, high calorie, food being consumed, such as fat and sugar, you can reduce the daily calorie intake. This can be achieved through a healthy school menu and stricter rules about packed lunches and snacks.

Secondly, you can increase the number of calories being used by building exercise into the school day. Not only will this help reduce weight in overweight children, it will have a positive impact on all pupils’ physical and mental health and can even improve behaviour and attainment. 

How to introduce physical activity in school

One of the most effective ways to increase physical activity is to give pupils the opportunity to be active whilst they play. Rather than sending children out into a boring old playground with nothing to do, many schools are now investing in outdoor playground equipment that encourages physical play. Indeed, research has shown that using ESP equipment has led to a 19% increase in physical activity.

Creating fun obstacle courses such as a Trim Trail, or installing Free Flow climbing equipment is a great way to encourage participation. You can also install a wide variety of playground markings which can be used for everything from hopscotch to team sports. For children who are more creative, there is a whole range of equipment that can be used for role-play, drama and dance activities.

Physical activity doesn’t just have to be reserved for PE and break times, either. With our wide selection of curriculum-based outdoor classroom equipment, you can now unleash your students from the desk and give them some active learning in the fresh air. At ESP Play, we have resources for every curriculum area, so, no matter what subject you are delivering, if the weather is fine, there’s no excuse to stay sedentary indoors.

Finally, you should consider signing up for The Daily Mile, a new initiative that gets every child in the school jogging (or even walking) at their own pace, for 1 mile every day. It takes just 15 minutes to do, needs no setting up and can be done in school uniform. It’s simple, easy and very effective.  


Whilst educating pupils and parents about healthy lifestyles is important, on its own, it is having little impact on improving physical health or reducing childhood obesity. The biggest impact a school can have, therefore, is to make physical activity a normal part of school life and that means active play, active lessons and increased time for initiatives such as The Daily Mile. This way, not only are you teaching about a healthy lifestyle, you are providing it too.