How to Make School Playgrounds Usable All Year Round

all year playground

Poor weather can have a very disruptive effect on the school day. When wet or wintery weather puts a stop to breaktimes, the lack of outdoor play means teachers don’t get their breaks, the pupils get irritable and find it hard to settle, and indoor play means classrooms get messy. The quality of learning and classroom behaviour can take a nosedive as a result. While extreme weather means you cannot guarantee keeping a playground open every day, there are things you can do to make the outdoor space more accessible all year round and cut the number of indoor playtimes.

In many cases, schools decide to cancel outdoor play not just because the weather is poor, but because the playground is not designed or equipped to keep children comfortable or safe when things take a turn for the worse. Here we’ll look at some of the things you can do to change this.

The importance of good surfacing

Great playground surfacing is the most important ingredient when creating a space that you want to be usable throughout the year. Schools often close playgrounds because of safety concerns due to slippery surfaces, but with the right surfacing in place, this can be reduced - as can puddles and mud.

While wet playgrounds increase the risk of slipping, installing playground surfacing that has proper drainage and which provides a superior grip on pupils’ footwear can reduce this. Improved drainage means surface water is soon dissipated and that large puddles don’t form. With less water on the surface and a surfacing type that provides a firmer footing, the chances of someone falling over are significantly reduced. Replacing asphalt with resin-bound gravel is one way to achieve this, though, for even greater safety, the ideal solution is wetpour surfacing.

Wetpour surfacing is made from 100% recycled tyres and not only provides the necessary grip to stop children sliding in wet conditions; it also provides cushioning so that if a fall does happen, the risk of injury is much reduced. This makes it ideal for all-year playgrounds and for installing under climbing equipment.

For grassed areas, there are two solutions. The simple and inexpensive way to stop grassed areas from turning into a quagmire and to make them usable in wet and wintery conditions is to install grass matting. This is a rubber mesh embedded into the surface that prevents the grass from being worn away and thus stops muddy patches from forming. Alternatively, you can install artificial grass that has superior drainage and where there is no soil directly underfoot to create any mud. Not only can this all-weather surface be used throughout the year; there’s the added benefit that it doesn’t need regular mowing, reseeding or feeding.

Provide shelter

Another reason schools stop children playing out is to protect them from cold, wind and heavy rain. In most cases, warm, waterproof clothing and suitable footwear are all that is needed for children to be happy and safe playing outside. However, you can make the playground more comfortable by adding shelter.

Replacing mesh fencing with a wooden alternative not only makes the playground look better; it provides shelter from cold winds and helps stop some of the rain. However, if you want to provide even greater protection and comfort, then the ideal solution would be an octagonal shelter. With a roof to keep out the rain, side panels to keep out the wind and seating for up to thirty children, this makes the perfect bolt-hole during inclement weather – and can be used all year round as an outdoor classroom.

There is a range of other solutions too. Play huts are ideal for small groups of children to hide away from the worst of the elements, sail shades protect from both the rain and the sun, and there is a wide selection of covered pergolas and other types of shelter available.

All-weather play equipment

If you are sending children out to play when it's cold and wet, they will still need things to do to keep them engaged. While you might not want them to use climbing equipment that gets slippery or get soaked going down a wet slide, there are still lots of things you can offer. Playground markings for football, netball and other sports enable children to participate in active games, as do fun marking for traditional playground games like hopscotch.

Children also love imaginative and creative play and, as they involve less running around, they are perhaps more suitable and safer activities in poor weather conditions. There is a wide range of imaginative play equipment to choose from, including outdoor musical instruments, mud kitchens, magnetic water walls, chalkboards, magnetic boards and whiteboards, outdoor stages and much more.

Conclusion

With the right surfacing and shelter, and a carefully curated selection of all-weather play equipment, schools can reduce the number of play and lunch breaks lost to poor weather. This eases the pressure on teaching staff and classroom assistants, reduces classroom disruption caused by children getting frustrated at being stuck indoors and stops classrooms from getting messy during indoor breaktimes.

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

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The Benefits of Free Play in EYFS Settings

Free play in EYFS

Modern childhood is increasingly regimented, especially in education where the demands of the statutory EYFS framework put increasing emphasis on more formal, structured types of learning. While the pros and cons of this approach are hotly debated, one thing remains clear: at a young age, free play is vital to child development. Here we look at how children benefit from free play and how EYFS providers can facilitate it.

What is free play?

Free play, also known as unstructured play, means giving children the opportunity to choose what they want to do and how they do it. Although adults need to facilitate the time, space and equipment needed, children should be the ones leading the activities and adults should not direct or guide them to meet learning outcomes or curriculum targets. It should be nothing more than pure play.

This, of course, doesn’t mean free play is without value. In fact, it is fundamental to child development and beneficial in numerous ways.

Social, emotional & personal development

When able to play freely, children interact in different ways and have many different experiences, some real and, through roleplay, some imaginary. Both types of experience help children explore the world they live in. They learn how to make friends, communicate, express emotions and feelings and, through roleplay, they can explore a wide range of different social situations, roles and relationships.

This is highly valuable for helping them develop key social skills, build self-confidence and overcome anxieties. It also helps them to understand other people’s feelings and how their own behaviour can affect others.

Cognitive & problem-solving skills

Many of the cognitive and problem-solving skills children need to progress in education are developed naturally through free play: they learn to think for themselves and solve problems creatively, coming up with their own solutions. The more opportunity they have, the more they are able to apply what they have learnt to other problems, including those inside the classroom.

Provided they have the right resources available to them, free play also gives children the chance to explore the properties of different physical materials. This is why equipment like magnetic water walls and messy play areas with mud kitchens and sand pits are so important. It’s play in one sense, but science and maths in another.

Problem solving also comes into play when there are disagreements or fallings-out in the playground. Faced with these issues, children quickly learn the skills to resolve them, such as turn-taking, sharing, negotiating and compromising.

Physical development

Young children’s bodies are still developing and need physical activity to increase strength and stamina, as well as develop physical skills, like fine motor, balance and coordination. As children at this age are often bouncing with energy, their free play choices usually involve physical exertion of some kind; however, they need plenty of opportunities to be active and have the right apparatus available to them to develop in the ways their bodies need.

To facilitate this, EYFS providers need a well-designed and suitably equipped playground that presents children with a selection of age-appropriate physical challenges. This should offer children the opportunity to do active things like run, jump, swing, climb and manoeuvre, as well as take part in activities that develop more refined skills, like catching, throwing, balancing, stepping, drawing, and digging.

Taking part in active free play doesn’t just help with physical development. When children enjoy these activities at an early age, it improves the chance that they will go on to adopt healthier lifestyles as they grow older and could, therefore, play a key role in their long-term health. Physical activity is also beneficial for mental wellbeing. With mental health issues now affecting growing numbers of children right across the age ranges, it is important to give them more opportunities to take part.

Conclusion

Free play is essential for child development, giving children the opportunity to develop social, emotional, personal, cognitive, problem-solving and physical skills. Rather than being thrust upon them through a regimented curriculum, it allows children to learn creatively and intuitively, at their own pace and in a way that suits their own interests and needs.

While EYFS providers have to fulfil the requirements of the EYFS framework, providing opportunities for free play enhances children’s ability to succeed at this stage of their education. To facilitate this, providers need to ensure that their children have the adequate time, space and resources to take part.

If you are looking for free play equipment for your EYFS playground, visit our EYFS Products page.

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How to Make School Playgrounds Safer

Make School Playgrounds Safer

Kids will be kids and accidents happen - while there’s truth in these old sayings, it doesn’t mean a school can’t make a playground safer and minimise the risk of accident or injury. In this post, we look at a number of effective things schools can do to increase outdoor safety.

Reduce bullying by ending boredom

Bullying and the occasional fights that result because of it, is most likely to happen in the playground where supervision is limited and children are free to move around. According to a study commissioned by the Royal Bank of Scotland, there is a direct correlation between incidents of bullying and children having nothing to do during breaktimes. Upgrading a playground to provide greater opportunity for engaging play can have a dramatic impact. The Landscapes for Learning charity reported that schools that made improvements to outdoor facilities, like installing exciting, modern climbing frames, reduced bullying by almost 65% and saw vandalism fall by more than a quarter.

Manage space to minimise accidents

Poor use of space creates the potential for one playground activity to clash with another and cause unnecessary accidents. It's easy for a child chasing after a football, for example, to crash into someone playing with a skipping rope nearby. There are numerous other places where this can happen. The way to minimise the risk of accident and injury is to design the playground so that it has separate activity zones.

Placing physical activities involving climbing and running away from each other prevents those taking part from getting in each other’s way. Additionally, landscaping, fencing and pathways can be used to demarcate the zones and if needed, physically prevent children from getting from one zone to another unless via a safe, designated route that is out of harm’s way. You can even do this to keep older children away from younger ones. Stuck for what you can achieve with playground design? Visit our inspiration page.  

Playground essentials that prevent rulebreaking

While all schools and nurseries have playground rules designed to prevent people from getting hurt, sometimes the playground lacks facilities that encourage children to follow those rules. Steps, walls and windowsills, for example, are comfortable places to sit outdoors, so even if a school bans this on safety grounds, it is no surprise that some children will try to sit there, day after day, if there is nowhere else to go. And if there are no picnic tables or bins, children will eat where they can and leave litter that can be hazardous and attract vermin.

With adequate facilities installed, the children are less inclined to sit and eat where they shouldn’t or leave the place untidy. There is a wide range of playground seating available today, from simple benches and picnic tables to elaborate octagonal shelters, and it’s reasonably priced and long lasting too.

Safe playground surfacing

A lot of playground accidents occur because of issues with worn or unsuitable playground surfaces. Worn asphalt or tarmac can develop potholes or have loose stones that increase the risk of someone tripping up or falling; concrete flags used on many school pathways can easily suffer from treacherous black ice in winter, hard surfaces under climbing frames increase the potential for injury if someone falls; and grassy banks that look idyllic in the summer sunshine become slippery quagmires in the rain.

Thankfully, playground surfacing has advanced significantly in recent times and many of the risks associated with asphalt, tarmac and concrete can be eradicated. Resin-bound gravel is a superior, hard surface alternative as the resin reduces the potential for erosion or potholes. Meanwhile, block paving is less slippery in icy conditions, rubber mulch and wetpour provide cushioning to lessen the risk of injury from falling, and grass matting or artificial grass ensure green areas don’t become a hazardous mud bath.

Keep equipment in tip top condition

If you have playground equipment, keeping it in good condition and making sure it is in proper working order is essential to ensure that it is safe to play on. Outdoor play equipment naturally gets heavy use and, over time, will need some maintenance to keep it up to standard and to prolong its longevity.

To ensure your playground equipment complies with BS EN1176 and remains fit for purpose, you should check it regularly and have an annual playground inspection by a qualified RPII inspector. ESP Play provides an RPII playground inspection service.

Conclusion

Keeping children safe is the first priority for schools and this includes minimising the risk of bullying or injuries in the playground. Hopefully, from reading this article, you’ll have a better understanding of how this can be achieved.

For more information, visit our Products and Services page.

 

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How to Create a Stimulating EYFS Playground

Stimulating EYFS Playground

As EYFS children learn through play, the playground is just as valuable a learning environment as the classroom. This means that to facilitate good learning experiences, it is important to create a stimulating outdoor area where education and personal development can thrive. For inspiration, this post will examine some of the things EYFS providers can do to make their playgrounds more inspiring.

Providing the right resources

Just like in the classroom, making your playground a great place to learn means providing your pupils with the right resources for their needs. While fulfilling the requirements of the EYFS curriculum is a key part of this, so is taking into account the abilities and interests of your own pupils. When upgrading a playground, it is always helpful to seek the opinions of your children and their parents to see what kind of equipment they would like to have. Getting parents on board can also be very useful for helping with fundraising.

For EYFS children, the right resources could include a wide range of different things. Play towers, for example, are great for developing both physical skills through climbing and motivating children to participate in adventurous role play activities. Sensory development can be encouraged by the introduction of magnetic water walls, sand boxes, outdoor percussion instruments or wobbly mirrors. Messy play, whether with mud kitchens, sandpits or water tables, is great fun and motivates creative and tactile skills.

At such a young age, it is important to stimulate children’s imagination and inquisitiveness, and there is a lot of equipment to help them achieve this. Indeed, at ESP Play, we have curated our own collection of imaginary playground equipment that includes pieces such as play huts, hollow logs, shop kiosks, bridges, climb-on boats, sit-on trains and more.

An organised space that invites and challenges

An effective EYFS playground needs to be well organised, inviting and provide children with challenge.

Good organisation is important to ensure safety and to provide learning experiences that can move seamlessly in and out of the classroom. Achieving this comes down to great design, something we have years of experience of at ESP Play. We have a free playground design service and our design team are happy to work with you to create a well organised outdoor space featuring a range of activity zones that are perfectly suited to your needs.

To make an outdoor play space inviting, it has to appeal to its intended audience. Though EYFS children are naturally attracted to brightly coloured and quirky equipment, it is essential that what’s there is age-appropriate and suited to the interests of your children. It’s another reason to collaborate closely with the children and their parents so that what you install is sure to be a winner.

Challenge is important to help children make progress and something that Ofsted inspectors will be looking for when they visit. Challenge comes in many forms, whether it involves physical activity, like mastering an EYFS climbing wall or Trim Trails obstacle course, developing coordination and road safety while triking around a playground roadway, or sitting in the storytelling chair to tell their friends a story. All these pieces, and more, can help children overcome fears, develop new skills and achieve new heights.

Inspiring confidence and independence

One of the chief aims of EYFS is to prepare children for school and part of this is helping them to become more self-confident and independent so they can do things for themselves. Our Early Years Trim Trails are an excellent resource for this. Specially designed for youngsters, these obstacle courses provide challenges that, when met, increase confidence and inspire children to be more independent. What’s more, as some of the obstacles take time to overcome, children naturally develop resilience as they attempt to master them. The best thing of course is that with balance beams, jungle bars, wobbly bridges and rope traversing options, these courses are great fun to play on.

Healthy options

EYFS playgrounds also need to motivate children to take part in physical activity in order to develop strength, agility and coordination and to improve general health. Stimulation, in this case, involves providing resources that make children active.

Strength can be improved through installing climbing and swinging apparatus, for example, traversing walls and jungle bars. For developing agility and coordination, there are numerous game-based playground markings suitable for EYFS children that are ideal for the purpose. These include agility ladders, steppers, and twisty lines. There are also many playground markings that combine coordination activities with basic numeracy and literacy skills, such as phonic spots, number arches and alphabet targets.

For more cardiovascular activities, you can also provide equipment like hurdles markings and pitch/court markings for football, netball, rounders and various other sports.

Conclusion

A stimulating EYFS playground is one where young children are motivated to get outside and participate. Designed correctly, you can inspire children to do things that help them learn, personally develop and stay fit and healthy through having fun.

For more ideas of how to make your EYFS playground more stimulating, visit our products page.

 

 

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Flat on Inspiration? Why Landscaping is the New Playground Trend

school playground landscaping

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

New dimensions, new challenges

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

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

Kinaestheic skills

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

The ups and downs of problem-solving

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

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

An island of opportunity

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

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

Defining the space

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

A more inviting environment

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

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

Conclusion

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

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

 

 

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