Seating and Shelter Ideas for School Playgrounds

seating and shelter ideas for school

As the most used area in a school, no playground should be without seating and shelter. Today, we are lucky to have a wide choice of playground furniture to choose from, so if you are finding it difficult to make a decision about which pieces are right for your school, here are some suggestions we think you’ll find useful.

Picnic tables for packed lunches

Lots of kids still bring packed lunches, something schools can find quite useful as it takes the pressure off the canteen during the hectic and increasingly short lunch break. Installing external picnic tables can provide additional relief as sandwich eaters choosing to go outside will free up tables inside. The tables can also be used during normal break times for kids to sit together comfortably and socialise – something they can’t do on damp grass.

Available in a variety of shapes and sizes, including those designed for wheelchair access, our sturdy picnic benches don’t require additional seating and will last for many years.

Circle seating for groups

Sitting in a circle not only makes it incredibly easy for everyone to listen in and get involved in group interactions; it’s also very inclusive. By installing circular seating, you can encourage this form of activity and provide groups with a comfortable place to hang out and socialise in the playground.

Our C-shaped log amphitheatres are ideal, as they provide safe and easy access in and out of the circle and leave enough space for wheelchair users to join in. Our collection includes one, two and three-tier amphitheatres, catering for groups large and small. They are also incredibly useful for children to sit on during outdoor lessons, including circle time.

Nature seating

Adding a little bit of greenery to your playground not only makes it look more attractive; it can offer a calming haven to boost wellbeing, something a lot of children need to cope with the busy and demanding school day.

To benefit from that greenery, children really need to be amongst it, which is why it’s a good idea to add planters with built-in seating. With a trellis providing a living wall that divides a space from the rest of the playground, and planters to add colour and scent, the built-in bench gives pupils the ideal place to sit, relax and find some much-needed breathing space. Additionally, if you are lucky enough to have a green area with trees, there are benches available that can be installed around the trunks.

Sheltered seating

Wet breaks are miserable experiences for kids and for the staff who have to patrol them. It’s not just rain that’s unpleasant either, cold or windy break times can be just as dismal. A way to provide protection all year round and give some shade on hot days is to install ESP Play’s octagonal shelters.

These large, wooden constructions with weatherproof roofing, provide shelter for whole class-sized groups of children and come with a range of options, from completely open with just a roof, to those with backrest-high, wind shielding walls and internal seating around the circumference. It is even possible to choose options with decking, whiteboards and chalkboards.

Of course, aside from offering somewhere to avoid the worst of the weather, these shelters also double up as great outdoor classrooms and can even be used for in-the-round music, dance and drama performances.

Feature seating

Playground seating doesn’t need to be merely functional; it can also be a real feature of your outdoor space that adds interest and excitement. Our benches, for example, can be gnarly and crooked, have painted wooden trees attached or, in the case of our sunshine seat, take the shape of a sun and rays, with the rays forming mini seating bays around the outside of the central hexagon.

Feature seating also comes in the form of toadstools and storytelling chairs, while interestingly designed shelters can be found in our range of forest play huts, each kept dry by a roof carpeted in artificial grass. One of these doubles up as a picnic table while another even has doors to close out the wind and rain.


Great outdoor seating and shelters not only provide protection from the elements; they can transform a playground, making it a more child-friendly, sociable and comfortable place to be in and enjoy. At the same time, many of them can be used to deliver outdoor learning. Hopefully, the suggestions mentioned here will give you some inspiration for developing your own playground.

For information about our wide range of playground furniture, visit our seating and shelter pages.


How to Create a Communal School Playground

Communal school playgrounds

Social interaction is incredibly vital for young people. It helps the development of language and communication; it forges and strengthens interpersonal relationships, and it enables children to acquire the key social skills that they’ll need to rely on for the rest of their lives. As most social interaction happens during free time, creating a communal school playground that facilitates and promotes interaction can be highly beneficial. Not only does it allow children to benefit from social interaction in the future; it caters for their happiness and wellbeing needs today. Here, we look at some of the features you can add to your playground to make it more communal.

A sports zone

By their very nature, team sports involve a great deal of social interaction. There’s the camaraderie within each team, the banter between teams, and taking part requires people to adopt roles, negotiate, communicate and follow a set of rules. In this sense, team sports are of high value when it comes to social interaction and facilitating them should be high on the agenda when creating a communal playground.

There are plenty of choices available for schools when it comes to adding a team sports zone to a playground. For those with larger budgets, there’s always the option of installing artificial grass pitches for sports like football, hockey, tennis, cricket and rugby. A more affordable option is to have playground markings added to your existing surfacing. These are available for sports such as football, netball, basketball, cricket and tennis. For schools with smaller playgrounds, it is even possible to get a multicourt, where the markings for three separate sports are overlaid in different colours, so children can interchange which games they play. Of course, these markings can be embellished with the requisite goals and nets, and there are even multi-form versions of these to go with the multicourt.

A roleplay area

Roleplay is something younger children do naturally. It’s a key part of growing up that helps them discover how the world is through playing characters and acting out scenarios. Through roleplay, children learn about people, relationships, roles, rules and status. It helps them develop social skills and develop problem-solving, communication, empathy and self-confidence. It’s a rich source of essential learning that also has the benefit of being great fun.

Facilitating roleplay can easily be done just by leaving a basket of costume pieces and props to play with. Provide a pram and a doll, for example, and a child will take on the role of a parent and their friends as doctors, shopkeepers, grandparents or other characters. For more thrilling roleplay, our wide range of imaginative play equipment can help take their inventiveness even further. Our collection includes shop kiosks, play trains, playboats, castle-themed climbing towers and much more.

A communal seating area

Hanging out is also important for social interaction. It’s where ideas and opinions are discussed, views exchanged, similarities and differences explored and where relationships bond. All communal playgrounds should have somewhere where children can simply just sit in their friendship groups and chat, even if it’s about nothing more than their favourite band, team or Tik-Tok video.

From circular benches and picnic tables, to play huts and large octagonal shelters, there is plenty of seating equipment now available that’s specifically designed to encourage social interaction in the playground and provide children with comfortable places to sit or eat.

A climbing zone

Whether it’s a play tower, trim tail, rope climbing equipment or a climbing frame, children love to play on them with their friends. They inspire roleplay and present new challenges while requiring children to communicate constantly as they make use of them or try to get from A to B. We often see children in climbing zones helping others get around, giving encouragement and praising success, all key ingredients to making a playground more inclusive and communal.

A games zone

Creating a playground game zone is another way to encourage social interaction and provide entertainment. Playing games together strengthens bonds between children and improves their communication and interpersonal skills.

Playground markings can be installed for traditional hopscotch and skipping type games, and modern tabletop games with built-in seating can be purchased for those that are less inclined to physical activity and are more interested in strategy games, like chess, ludo, snakes and ladders and Connect 4. We also have table games available, like spinning football, puzzles and table tennis.


A communal playground is one in which every member of the school community feels welcome and in which all pupils are given the facilities and encouragement to interact with each other. This type of environment is essential for developing social and interpersonal skills and helps the school be a more harmonious and inclusive place to attend. If you are looking to make your playground more communal, hopefully, the ideas suggested here will help.

For more information, visit our Products page.


Outdoor PE Solutions for Small Playgrounds

PE solutions for small playgrounds

For many schools, especially primaries with small playgrounds, delivering a broad and balanced outdoor PE curriculum can be a big challenge. Here we look at some of the practical solutions available today that can help you offer a greater choice of sports and training and which are ideal for schools with limited outdoor space.

Reliable foundations

If you have a smaller outdoor space, it is likely that it will need to be used for both PE and general outdoor play. For this reason, you’ll need surfacing that is ideal for many different types of activity, is hardwearing and can be used in all weathers.

There are two modern surfacing solutions that are ideal for this: resin bound gravel and wetpour surfacing. Replacing tarmac and asphalt as the hard surface of choice, resin bound gravel offers improved drainage for all year use and a firmer footing for reduced risk and superior sports performance.

Wetpour surfacing, which is made from recycled rubber, offers a great grip on footwear, too. It is also softer and provides cushioning, making it great for outdoor sports as it reduces the chances of injury should pupils take a tumble during a PE activity. For the same reasons, it’s equally good for general outdoor play, especially around climbing equipment.

For those with additional space, a third alternative is artificial grass. Usable all year round, even when normal grass is too muddy, is easily maintained, without the need for mowing or reseeding, ensuring that whatever the weather, outdoor PE lessons can go ahead.

Pitch, court & trainer markings

The PE curriculum entitles pupils to participate in a broad range of sports, however, what a school can offer is often limited to the types of pitches, courts and equipment they have. Playground markings, which work with resin bound gravel, wetpour and older types of hard surfaces, are an inexpensive way of providing a wide variety of outdoor pitches and courts, for sports such as football, netball, basketball, rounders, tennis and cricket. For those schools short of outdoor space, it is even possible to create a multi-sports court that provides the markings for three different sports on the same pitch, each in different colours.

Additionally, there are also a wide variety of training markings available, designed to help pupils improve skills, including balance, endurance, coordination, footwork, hurdles and ball skills.

Add the right sports equipment

Of course, surfacing and markings won’t provide all the resources you need for outdoor PE. So, it is important to consider the additional equipment that can embellish these and expand your provision. The latest sports equipment lets you add high-quality, space saving football and hockey goals and basketball and netball hoops to your pitch markings. For those with space shortages, there are even multi-sports versions that combine goals and hoops into a single piece of equipment that can be kept outdoors for use in football, hockey, netball and basketball – you can even let children make use of these during playtimes.

As for training, there is also equipment like ball walls for football, tennis and cricket, and for accuracy training, there are ball catches and wall targets.

Create an outdoor gym

Aside from teaching pupils about different sports, another key purpose of PE is to give pupils the opportunity to stay fit and healthy. For those with limited indoor space, it is now possible to create an outdoor gym in the playground.

What’s great about the AllGo+ Gym is that it relies only on body weight, so there are no heavy weights that can cause injury. This makes it ideal for use in schools where it can help with physical fitness sessions, like circuit training. Equipment included in the AllGo+ Gym includes press up bars, monkey bars, circle steps, flat and inclined sit-up benches, leg raisers, step-up stations and fast feet floor markings. Additionally, each piece comes with its own instruction post and health and safety advice.


If you are stuck for space to deliver your outdoor PE, there are now solutions there to help you. From establishing a safe surface that can be used in all weathers to space-saving multi-sports markings, built-in outdoor goals, nets and training equipment and even outdoor, body weight only gyms, there’s everything you need to enhance and expand your provision and to offer pupils a wider range of activities to participate in during their free time.

If you are looking to update your outdoor PE provision, take a look at our wide selection of surfacing, sports markings, gym and sports equipment.


Why Great Design Matters for Small School Playgrounds

small school playground design

Everywhere you look these days, school playgrounds seem to be getting kitted out with the latest, must-have outdoor equipment. The one thing many of these modern playgrounds have in common is that they are of a decent size. For schools with smaller playgrounds, it can be hard to find the right solution when there is so little space available. However, with the right design team behind you, the possibilities are endless. Here we discuss why great design matters for small school playgrounds.

Dilemmas and challenges

Schools with small playgrounds are often faced with the dilemma that, by installing playground equipment, they make available space even smaller. It seems like there is a choice between giving children things to do and space to run around. A good playground, however, should aim to do both. The challenge is in finding a way to achieve this – and this is where having the help of a specialist school playground design team, like ESP Play, can be invaluable.

The importance of zones

No matter how big or small your outdoor space, the modern approach to designing playgrounds involves the creation of zones. This means creating discrete areas for different types of activities. Separating activities in this way is essential for making the playground safer, more inclusive and providing a wider range of play opportunities.

A smaller playground might not be able to have as many zones as a larger one, or, if it does, the zones might have less or smaller equipment. However, by using them, you can create areas for different activities, such as active play, creative play, sensory play and even quiet areas for sitting and chatting. A good designer will make sure that the layout of the playground is such that children taking part in one activity won’t be disrupted or put at risk by those taking part in another and that there is adequate access to and from each zone. In this way, no one is excluded from taking part and staff will have fewer issues to deal with as the design limits the potential for hazards.

Clever space-saving design

ESP Play’s experienced playground designers have created countless designs for small playgrounds up and down the country and understand not just the issues but the unseen opportunities that schools miss.

One frequently missed opportunity is not taking advantage of your school and playground walls. For playgrounds with limited space, these offer incredible potential, enabling the school to add a wide range of fun and educational equipment that doesn’t take up precious space elsewhere. What’s great is that even if you don’t currently have any walls, it’s relatively simple to install a fence that’s strong enough to serve the same purpose.  School walls can be used to install blackboards and whiteboards, traversing walls, magnetic water walls, ball targets and basketball hoops. They can also be used to create nature zones in your playground through the use of planters and trellises, together with wall-attached bug houses, bird feeders and butterfly houses. All these things, and more, can be put around the edges of your playground without taking up precious space in the centre.

Your choice of zones

When it comes to making use of the space, it’s up to you which zones to create and what features you might want them to have. For example, you could create a messy play area next to a wall that features a magnetic water wall as well as a small sandpit and a mud kitchen. The wall could also incorporate hangers on which you could keep aprons to keep the children dry and free of sand.

Small playgrounds don’t need to lack exciting climbing equipment either. Although you might be hard pushed to fit in a large climbing frame, smaller versions are available that can still offer plenty of fun-filled thrills for your pupils, whether that’s play towers for younger children or the Free Flow Expedition package. If you’re really stuck for space, you can choose individual pieces from our Trim Trails equipment, including jungle bars, wobbly bridges, balance beams, log stairs and many more.

There’s also a lot of equipment for imaginative play zones, where children can indulge in creative activities and role play. From mini-stages and shop kiosks to boats, carriages and trains, these pieces offer great fun without taking up too much space.

As for reserving a space for running around, that’s possible too – and can best be achieved with the addition of a few playground markings to provide the sports pitches and traditional playground games markings to inspire participation and keep the activities within designated areas.


As you can see, having a small school playground doesn’t mean your pupils can’t benefit from the great equipment you see being installed in other schools. However, it does mean you’ll need to be a little cleverer when it comes to getting the design right and that you choose the right pieces to match the space you have available.

For more information about our Free Playground Design Service, visit our Playground Design page.


7 Different Ways That Children Play

ways children play

To create a school or nursery playground that engages all children, it is important to understand the different ways that children play. Here, we look at how seven different types of play appeal to children of different ages and interests, discuss the benefits they bring and explain why playground design needs to cater for each of them.

1. Solo play

Solo play is that which children like to do on their own and is usually the first form of play that a child participates in. It is, however, something people continue to do not just through childhood, but into adulthood too. Solo play can include things like building a sandcastle, going down a slide, traversing a climbing wall or kicking a ball against a wall. Highly engaging, it can be useful for developing creative and problem-solving skills, as well as enabling children to learn about themselves and the world they live in.

2. Social play

As the name suggests, social play involves taking part in play activities with others, whether that’s with adults or children, small groups or large. Participation helps children to develop important social skills, understand social norms and build relationships with others. Additionally, it helps with the development of communication, cooperation, rule-following, negotiation and problem-solving skills.

3. Free play

Free or unstructured play is where children are given free rein to play as they please. Obviously, in an educational setting, this will be supervised by adults for safeguarding reasons, but the activities that children choose to undertake is entirely up to them and can be either solo or group play.

The choice of outdoor play equipment is important to provide adequate free play opportunities. The greater the variety available, the greater the choice for children. How they decide to use that equipment, however, can be quite different to how it was intended. The great thing about free play is that it allows children to develop their independence and let their creativity roam free. When this happens, they can come up with some highly imaginative ideas.

4. Unstructured play

The opposite of free play is structured play – that which has a purpose and is planned, organised and has ground rules. In schools and nurseries, it is the teaching staff who organise and supervise the play and the activities are carried out in order to achieve an outcome that is often learning related. Aside from EYFS or curriculum-related learning, structured play also helps children learn how to follow instructions and behave appropriately in organised activities.

5. Physical play

While play tends to get more sedentary as we get older, children love to indulge in highly physical activities: running, jumping, climbing, swinging and sliding, etc. This includes everything from chasing games and playing sports, to playing on climbing frames and play towers.

While physical play offers children endless opportunities for fun, these kinds of activities are also very beneficial for developing physical and motor skills and for both physical and mental wellbeing. Ideally, children should have an hour of moderate to vigorous physical activity every day and this type of play offers the ideal opportunity for them to get it.

6. Sensory play

Sensory play is that which enables children to have sensory-rich experiences and is particularly valuable for younger children and children with SEND. Schools and nurseries should provide sensory play opportunities that address sight, touch, hearing and smell. To achieve this, playground design and equipment needs to provide different colours, textures, sounds and smells. A common practice, today, is to create a sensory zone within a playground. A nature zone with flowering, scented plants and a water feature is another great way to bring the senses to life.

7. Creative play

Children naturally like to make things and the playground provides a range of opportunities to do this. These include activities like building dens, making mud pies and sandcastles, arranging toy building blocks and creating art made from twigs and leaves. Again, this type of play is beneficial to developing creativity and problem solving, and it can also help those important fine motor skills.

Of course, children don’t need to build things to be creative. They will quite easily begin a role play with friends, start drawing or painting and if there are outdoor percussion instruments at hand, will even attempt making music. Ensuring these activities are catered for can widen the creative play choices that children have access to.


As you can see, there are many different types of play that children can participate in and each has its own benefits and value. To give children the widest opportunities to learn, develop and have fun, schools and nurseries should consider these different types of play when designing their playgrounds and provide appropriate equipment for each.

For more information about playground design, visit our Free Playground Design Service page.


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