Best Outdoor Playground Equipment for Schools

UK school playgrounds have undergone something of a revolution in the last few years. Gone are the days when children were hoofed out on to dull asphalted yards with nothing more to entertain them than a ball and a skipping rope.

Today, schoolyards are far more vibrant and exciting, and this is all possible because of the wide range of playground equipment available, including different varieties of surfacing, playground markings, play equipment and even resources to create exciting outdoor classrooms.

So, if your school playground still looks like a throwback to the middle of the last century, as in the 1940s image above, we hope these products will give you an idea of how you can make yours fit for the 21st-century child.

Safest playground flooring

Traditionally, school playgrounds are surfaced with asphalt or tarmac. Whilst these are hardy surfaces, their hardness can lead to health and safety risks such as cuts, bumps and grazes. During snowy or icy weather, they can also become very slippery, putting pupils and staff at risk of more serious injury. If you intend to modernise your playground and are considering climbing equipment, hard surfaces create a risk for those who may fall.

Today, there is a range of different playground surfaces to choose from and it is possible to create different zones each with a different type of surface. For safety, however, the ideal solution would be to install wetpour surfacing. This soft surfacing solution is made from resin bound recycled tyre crumbs and, while firm enough to walk and play on, is able to cushion children when they fall, reducing the likelihood of injuries. Wetpour surfacing can also be installed in a variety of colours to give your playground a more exciting feel.

Most useful playground markings

There are a plethora of playground marking available and they can be used for all sorts of purposes: traditional games, literacy and numeracy development, sports skill training and much more.

Perhaps the most useful, and one of ESP Play’s most popular playground markings, are the multicourt markings. Ideal for small playgrounds, a multicourt creates three sports courts in one area: futsal (like 5-a-side football), netball and basketball. This is done by overlaying the markings for each sport in different colours.

A multicourt enables pupils to play fitness enhancing sports together during break and lunchtimes and can also be used during PE lessons or for inter-school competitions. Nets and goals are also available.

Healthiest sports equipment

Today’s schools are spoiled for choice when it comes to playground sports equipment, from full-sized artificial pitches to ball walls, basketball nets, soccer goals and even outdoor table tennis. However, if you want to take pupil fitness to the next level, then our outdoor AllGo+ Gym is a must.

The gym equipment, which uses body weight only, comprises a range of different pieces of which you can mix and match to suit your own needs. These include: press up and pull up bars, flat and inclined sit-up benches, monkey bars, leg risers, step markers and circles steps. Made from wood, they are less expensive, safer and easier to maintain than steel alternatives.

Best playground seating and furniture

Outdoor seating and furniture have long been neglected in schools. When they’re installed, they give children places to sit, chat and eat lunch. When you buy picnic benches, you are also getting the seating resources for an outdoor classroom and reducing the pressure for space in the canteen.

If you want the ultimate outdoor seating solution, check out the ESP Play octagonal shelter with solid sides, seating and decking. This large shelter provides lots of seating, protection from the wind and rain and can be used for outdoor lessons and as a mini performance area as well as for use by children during break times.

Most exciting outdoor play equipment

Great outdoor play equipment needs to fulfil a number of roles. It should give children something entertaining to do, stimulate physical activity and encourage them to play together. At ESP Play, we have a variety of equipment types which do this. These include imaginative play equipment, sand and water play, trim trails, play towers, and climbing equipment.

Perhaps the most exciting new product we have is our Freeflow modular climbing equipment. Designed to excite and challenge students whilst keeping them active and healthy, it’s the ideal obstacle course for children and one which you can add to as and when your budget allows.

Conclusion

As you can see, outdoor playground equipment has come a long way and for good reasons. A well-equipped playground helps children stay active, learn new skills, develop relationships and enjoy school more. It can even have positive effects on mental health, behaviour and progress. In this sense, updating your playground is much more than giving kids something to do at break times, it’s an investment in their future wellbeing.

For more information about the wide range of outdoor playground equipment available at ESP Play, visit our homepage.

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Guide to Creating an Inclusive School Playground

Five percent of children in the UK are disabled and many of these find themselves excluded from outdoor play activities because school playgrounds are not designed with inclusion in mind. In this post, we’ll discuss what practical steps schools need to take to create a truly inclusive playground for all pupils.

Why you need an inclusive playground

Outdoor play brings benefits of all kinds: it improves physical and mental health, promotes personal development and encourages better social interaction. However, some children are denied these opportunities because the design of the playground or the equipment on offer creates a barrier for them. Pupils who use a wheelchair, for example, may face accessibility issues whereas autistic pupils might find busy spaces overbearing. A truly inclusive playground would ensure that all pupils could participate in outdoor play.

Guidelines for creating an inclusive school playground:

1. Accessibility

The first thing one should consider when looking at playground accessibility is whether children can get into and move around the space with ease. For this, pathways need to be wide enough to accommodate wheelchairs, be smooth and have gentle inclines to raised areas.

Not only should pathways enable children to get in and move around with ease, they should also help children in wheelchairs and those who have difficulty walking get directly to any of the equipment. Ideally, when creating the playground, you should locate popular equipment near the playground entrance or close to any pathway.

If your site contains any high points, such as mounds, raised stages or climbing equipment, wheelchair access should be provided. For those pupils who are unable to access this type of equipment, you need to provide the opportunities for them to get close so that they can continue being with friends. If they are taking part in a roleplay, for example, they can still be part of the activity even if not using the equipment itself.

Another important consideration is playground surfacing. Some surfacing materials make it much easier for wheelchair users to move around on whilst others provide safer surfaces to fall on. Make sure you use the most appropriate surface for each area of your playground.

Finally, if you use any signs in your outdoor playground, make sure that these are placed at a height where wheelchair users can read them (around one metre above the ground) and have them written in simple to understand text or use easy to understand symbols. If you have pupils who are blind, Braille should be used too.

2. Sensory Play

Sensory play should be an essential element of an inclusive playground. All children, regardless of ability, are fascinated by touch, sound, smell and visual stimulation and creating an area where everyone can enjoy these things together goes a long way towards inclusivity.

For sight and visual stimulation, install body warping mirror boards or equipment with a variety of shapes and textures. Installing planters enables you to grow flowers which are both brightly coloured and which offer a variety of scents.

Sound stimulation can easily be achieved through the use of child-friendly, outdoor musical equipment, such as chimes, drums, washboards, xylophones and talking tubes, whilst one of the best ways to offer tactile stimulation is through sand and water play. Here at ESP Play, for example, we have a range of water and sand play equipment which also includes a variety of mud kitchens.

3. Imaginative, Individual and Social Play

school story telling area special offer

An inclusive playground needs to have an open space where children can participate in imaginative play together. Some of this space should, ideally, be free from any equipment and be suitably surfaced so that children can use the area to move around easily. However, to encourage children to participate and socially interact, it helps to have imaginative outdoor play equipment installed nearby.

At the same time, there also needs to be a space where children who find the hustle and bustle of a busy playground overwhelming can go for some much-needed quiet time. Nature areas shielded off with trellises and located further away from the loudest areas are the best solutions. There is a range of great nature resources available to help create a calm area in your playground. However, if this is not possible, then consider installing smaller features across the playground such as play tunnels and seating huts where children can find respite.

4. Physical Play

Physical play is a great way to encourage social inclusion, enabling children who find it difficult to socially interact to join in activities and develop relationships with others. For this reason, an inclusive playground should provide equipment for group games and sports activities that can be accessed by all. If you install playground sports equipment, consider adapting it so that every child can use it. For example, if you have a basketball court, install a second set of nets at a height where wheelchair users can participate in shooting for goal.

When it comes to inclusive physical play, every child should be given the opportunity for challenge and risk and a range of suitable equipment, for example, large climbing structures, should be provided to meet the needs of all students. Children of all year groups, sizes and abilities should be catered for.

5. Seating & Tables

Seating in an inclusive playground should be placed at 20-metre intervals along pathways so that those who have difficulty walking can take regular rest stops if needed. It should also be placed near to the play equipment. For physical support, some playground seating should have back and arm rests and there should be space available next to the seating where wheelchair users can place their wheelchairs next to their friends.

Any tables that are provided should be high enough for a wheelchair user to put their legs underneath.  

Conclusion

As you can see from reading this article, there is a lot to consider when designing a playground that is truly exclusive. If you are looking for help in creating an exclusive playground for your school, call us on 01282 43 44 45 and we’ll be happy to help.

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How to Create a Forest School Style Environment in Your Playground

Forest schools are highly regarded centres that inspire pupils to develop confidence and self-esteem through hands-on learning in a natural environment. Whilst many schools use these centres for one-off day trips, the benefits are limited because of the infrequency of visits and because only a small number of pupils get to go.

The ideal situation would be to have a suitable ‘natural environment’ area on your school premises where all children could have access to nature all year round. This way, everyone can take part and the benefits can be sustained.

Whilst some schools are lucky enough to have such an area within their grounds, many do not. However, this does not mean you cannot go some way to creating a natural environment. In this post, we’ll explain how this can be achieved.

Identifying an Area

The first thing you need to do is identify the part of your school premises which you want to use for your forest school nature area. Ideally, it will be a place which has the following qualities:

  • It is naturally grassed. (There are ways around this if needed.)
  • It can be sectioned off from the playground and reserved for special use.
  • It gets sunlight.
  • It has sufficient space for your needs. (How many children will you want to have access at any one time?)
  • If it already has established trees, even better.

Getting The Right Groundworks

The best ground on which to create a natural environment is one which has soil and grass. This way you have the right environment for planting and for attracting the fauna that lives in the soil and grass.

If this is lacking, there are two alternatives. You can create raised beds on top of hard surfacing which can then be turfed over, or you can use a different type of playground surfacing, such as rubber mulch, in combination with a series of planters

Installing Trees

For a real forest school environment, you should plant trees in your nature area. Trees encourage a much wider ecosystem to develop, they create shading and they make the area look far more natural rather than simply garden-like.

If you have a naturally grassy area, it may be possible to plant trees directly into the ground. However, this may be impractical if the roots are likely to cause problems with building works or if you are using raised beds. However, this does not mean you cannot have them.

Many trees will grow perfectly well and to a reasonable, manageable size in large, deep planters or pots. Doing this also enables you to install a range of different trees, such as a mix of conifers and deciduous trees. You may even want to plant trees which blossom in the spring or which fruit in late summer.

Encouraging Wildlife

One of the benefits of creating a forest school environment is enabling children to observe and learn about nature in its natural environment. To do this, you need to encourage wildlife to move into the area.

This can be achieved easily with a few simple pieces of equipment. For example, our insect habitats, ladybird towers, bird tables and butterfly boxes are great for encouraging birds and insects to your area. Add a small, shallow pond for frogs and newts and you are on your way.

Hide The School Walls

To create the impression that your forest school nature area is a little more secluded and away from the school building, you can install planters with trellises. These will enable you to plant climbers, tall shrubs or bushes that can create a green, living boundary that shields your area from the rest of the school.

When this is done, children visiting the nature area will really feel like they are leaving the school and entering a natural environment. This will enable them to feel more relaxed and better inclined to undertake the outdoor learning tasks you have prepared for them.

Add Some Plants

With lots of different planters to choose from, it is possible to plant a wide range of flora in your nature area. However, if you are trying to recreate a forest school environment, ideally, you should grow plants which are found within woodland areas: ferns, bluebells, wild garlic, nettles, primroses and foxgloves, for example.

Planting a range of flowers that bloom throughout the year can ensure there is always some colour in your area. You can also plant fruiting plants such as brambles. Adding a few old logs will also encourage interesting looking fungi to move in.

Equipping Your Forest School Area

To help children learn in your nature area, there is a range of equipment you can use. For example, you can install nature boards to help them identify different types of plants and wildlife or, for more detailed examination, you can also use an investigation table or a discovery planter.

Learning through play should also be encouraged and there is plenty of den making equipment you can use, together with hollow logs and crooked benches. At ESP Play we have an entire range of Wild Wood equipment, inspired by nature, which may be the ideal complement to your forest school.

Conclusion

Giving children access to a natural environment can benefit them in many ways, including improving their learning skills and social and emotional well-being. For most schools, providing children with such an environment is something that happens only occasionally, on school trips. However, from reading this article, you should have some idea how you can provide it for all children, all year round, even if your school lacks its own natural space.

If you are considering creating a forest school style nature area at your school, call us on 01282 43 44 45 and we’ll be happy to discuss how we can help.

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How to Improve Early Years Provision Through Outdoor Play Equipment

Ofsted loves a good playground. Many outstanding primary schools, pre-schools and nurseries are often praised for creating well-resourced playgrounds that enable high-quality learning to take place outside of the classroom. In this post, we’ll explain what Ofsted sees as important for school playgrounds and show you how you can improve early years provision through your own outdoor spaces.

What does Ofsted look for in a school playground?

Primarily, Ofsted wants to see a playground that can be used as an outdoor learning space. For EYFS and primary pupils, they are looking for facilities and equipment that helps children:

  • learn and practise their literacy and numeracy skills
  • improve physical development
  • enhance learning about the environment
  • stimulate their imaginations
  • participate in well planned and focused learning activities

In the rest of this post, we’ll show you how you can achieve these things in your own playground.

1. Developing literacy and numeracy skills

One of the key skills for EYFS children is learning letters and numbers and the best way to do this outdoors is to make it a fun activity. One example of how this can be achieved is to install a small traversing wall in which the handgrips children hold on to are the letters of the alphabet or where the grips are numbered.  

Other resources include playground markings, such as alphabet targets, footwork vowels and phonetic spots for literacy, and number arches, number grids and hopscotch games for numeracy.

 

With resources for encouraging roleplay to develop speaking and listening and table top and upright boards for mark making, it is easy to set your playground up as the ideal place for young pupils to learn literacy and numeracy.

2. Improve physical development

There are lots of outdoor playground resources to improve a child’s physical development. These can increase physical fitness through aerobic activities, develop muscular strength or work on skills such as balance and agility.

The best thing about them is that they are great to play on. They motivate and stimulate children into getting active and, as a result, they see physical activity as something fun rather than as a chore. To give you an example of just a few of the things you can do, here at ESP Play we have play towers to climb on and slide down, exciting trim trail obstacle courses to complete and a wide range of playground markings to encourage active play and sports.    

3. Enhance learning about the environment

Ideally, every school should have an outdoor area where pupils can learn to appreciate the environment. If you don’t have the luxury of a school garden or field, however, there are resources that encourage wildlife to come into your school grounds. These include bug houses, butterfly boxes, bird feeders and ladybird towers.

To complement these, you can add a range of planters and trellises and even a discovery planter to create your own nature zone. All these resources encourage children to develop an interest in and an appreciation for the nature in their own backyard. At the same time, they provide teachers with the facilities needed to help children learn about nature and the environment.

4. Stimulate children’s imaginations

One of the best ways to develop children’s imaginations is to provide them with ample time for unstructured activities where they are free to let their minds wander. However, to get the most from this, Ofsted recognises that schools need to provide the equipment that will stimulate imaginative play.

Luckily, there is so much equipment available to do this, that it is possible to create an entire adventure world in which children can roleplay to their heart’s content. Our imaginative playground equipment includes mountains, mines, tunnels, bridges, warped mirrors, play huts, teepees, den making posts, carriages, trains, mud kitchens, shop kiosks, outdoor musical instruments and much more. All of which can be installed on child-safe playground surfacing.

With facilities like this in your playground, there is no end of things that children can explore through roleplay and imagination.

5. Participate in well-planned and focused learning activities

It’s not just the resources that you use that will get you praise from Ofsted, it’s how you utilise them in children’s learning. To get the most out of them, you need to use them as a resource in structured lessons, besides letting children use them for free play. The possibilities, however, are endless. With the resources mentioned in this post, you can plan lessons that cover many aspects of the EYFS curriculum. Here’s just an example:

  • Use the shop kiosk to create roleplay scenarios for developing communication and language.
  • Set up a trim trail obstacle course to develop physical coordination, control and movement skills.
  • Give children roles to carry out using imaginative equipment to develop social skills.
  • Play bean bag catching games on the phonic spots to develop phonic skills.
  • Play counting games using the number grid to help with basic addition and subtraction.
  • Plan activities to observe changes in the bug house or butterfly boxes to help with understanding the environment.
  • Use outdoor musical instruments to explore sound for the expressive arts element of EYFS.

Conclusion

As you can see, when it comes to EYFS, learning doesn’t have to be confined to the indoor space. Using outdoor playground equipment enables you to extend and enhance the provision you deliver to young pupils, giving them a far richer learning experience – one that both they and Ofsted will appreciate.

For more information, take a look at our specific range of EYFS equipment, designed to complement all seven areas of the EYFS curriculum.

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How to Improve Playground Behaviour and Safety

Putting children in an open space with unstructured activities and limited adult supervision can cause problems, especially when you have the whole school using the space at the same time. This makes lunch and break times a period of increased risk for the safety of children. One way to reduce that risk is to improve pupil behaviour in the playground. In this post, we’ll take a look at some of the ways this can be achieved.

What behaviours need to be managed?

When we talk about playground behaviour, we are referring to a range of things that children do which can have health and safety concerns. Whilst bullying is something that easily comes to mind, there are less extreme behaviours which can also be risky, such as going into ‘out of bounds’ areas, playing ball games near windows, climbing on walls or playing physical games in high traffic areas.

With the exception of bullying, none of these are malicious; yet most children know they are breaking a rule when they do them. To make a playground safer, therefore, the aim is to stop this behaviour happening. Whilst better policing might be one way to reduce the number of incidents where rules get broken, a better strategy would be to address the causes of these behaviours. Here are some ways you can do this in your playground.

1. Reducing bullying by reducing boredom

One factor that can increase incidents of bullying in the playground is boredom. According to an article in The Telegraph, a report, commissioned by the Royal Bank of Scotland, claims that playground bullying is directly linked to a lack of stimulation and that one sixth of UK children suffer from break time boredom.

The key to resolving playground bullying, then, is in providing something interesting for children to do. Children who are engaged and happy are far less likely to pick on other children. According to the same Telegraph article, the charity Landscapes for Learning says that schools that have transformed their playgrounds have seen a 64% reduction in bullying. They’ve seen vandalism fall by 28%, too.

Transforming your playground is no longer a difficult task. The variety of high-quality playground equipment now available means schools can cater for the needs of children all the way from EYFS to the top end of secondary school. This doesn’t just include things for the sporty kids either; there’s equipment for arty kids, nature lovers, adventure seekers, mud pie makers and much more.

2. Improve behaviour through managing space

One way to stop pupils playing physical activities in areas where they might cause injury or damage is to divide your playground into discrete activity zones. For example, if you have children wanting to play football during the break times this can be done quite easily with the installation of playground markings. You can also add a sports playground surface to this area as well, such as wetpour surfacing or artificial grass.

By installing these dedicated activity areas, you provide the incentive pupils need to behave more considerately towards others. They will be much more likely to use the facilities on offer and as a result, the risk of accidents is reduced.

It’s not just the setting up of a sports zone that can improve the way children behave, though. It’s about setting up a range of different zones and locating them in the most appropriate place. For example, if you install a sand and water play zone for your infant pupils, you might not want your juniors to take over the area. Locating this near a place that is easily supervised and which can be fenced off will discourage older pupils from going in an area they know is out of bounds.

3. Stop rule breaking by providing essential facilities

Children are great improvisers. If you don’t provide them with a ball, they’ll use a plastic bottle or a tin can; if you don’t give them somewhere to sit, they’ll use a wall, a windowsill or some steps. With the latter, you’ll find many schools where there are no seating facilities at all in the playground and yet there are rules forbidding children from sitting on walls, windowsills and steps for health and safety reasons.

Whilst it’s understandable why the rules are in place, it’s equally as understandable why children choose to ignore them. What’s not understandable is why schools don’t provide adequate facilities in the first place. Playground seating is relatively inexpensive, lasts a very long time and when put in the right place stops children breaking rules and risking getting injured.

You can do this with bins to prevent the dropping of litter, with playground paving to encourage children to follow rules about moving safely from area to area, and with picnic tables to make sure they eat their snacks and lunches is designated areas.

Conclusion

A well-equipped school playground can have a big impact on behaviour and safety. Not only does it remove one of the main causes of bullying, it also helps manage minor behaviour issues that can lead to the risk of accident and injury. When installed, children naturally begin to use the equipment in ways which make playgrounds safer and which reduces the burden on those staff who are on duty.

If you are considering transforming your playground, check out our wide range of outdoor play equipment or take advantage of our free playground design service.

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