All-Weather Outdoor Play, Sports and Learning Solutions for Schools

Wet breaks are something every teacher dreads. Instead of a much-needed cuppa in the staffroom, you’re stuck in class with thirty cooped up kids. It’s noisy, chaotic and stressful. What’s more, it's probably unnecessary. Today, playgrounds can be created that enable suitably dressed pupils to go out in all but the worst weather. Indeed, you can now install surfacing and shelters that let children play, do sports and even learn in an outdoor classroom all year round. Here, we’ll look at the options you can choose.

literacy and phonics

All-year playground surfacing

One of the biggest problems with school playgrounds in bad weather is with the playground surfaces. Grassy areas get muddy, asphalt gets puddles and both become slippery safety hazards. Feet get wet, shoes get caked in mud and someone always gets injured in one way or another.

Those things, however, don’t need to happen. The simple use of grass matting, a form of protective rubber mesh that is placed over the top of grassed areas, prevents the soil underneath from being churned up during wet weather but leaves space for the grass to grow through. The area can be used all year round, without the risk of it turning into a quagmire or the associated hazard of slippage and the cleaning up operation needed to remove thousands of muddy footprints from the corridors and carpets. You’ll also benefit from not having to constantly reseed or even re-turf the grassed areas.

Perhaps more innovative is wetpour surfacing. Made from recycled rubber granules bonded together with resin, this free draining playground surface provides children with an area where surface water quickly drains away, preventing puddles and limiting the chance of ice forming. What’s more, its textured surface provides excellent grip in wet weather, reducing the potential for slippage. Perhaps best of all, however, if children do slip or fall, the absorbent texture of the rubber materials means they’ll have a cushioned landing, minimising the possibility of injury. Resin-bound rubber mulch provides similar protection. If you still want a hard surface for your playground, you can also opt for the fully permeable resin bound gravel. Both this and wetpour surfaces can be used with playground markings and come in a variety of colours.

All-weather sports surfacing

At least when the wet bell goes its only playtime that’s disrupted, for PE teachers, however, bad weather can cause serious disruption to curriculum provision. Besides preventing planned lessons going ahead, bad weather means PE staff have to find alternative lessons to teach, often at very short notice and sometimes without the availability of a suitable indoor space.

All-weather sports surfaces ensure continuity of curriculum delivery in all but the harshest of conditions. The aforementioned wetpour surfacing is an ideal all-weather surface for sports and can be marked out for a wide range of sports pitches and courts, including multi-court markings which can be very helpful for those with limited outdoor space. There are also a number of training markings which can be installed, there’s even a multi-skills zone.

For schools which require a higher-standard of all-weather sports surfacing, artificial grass provides the ultimate solution. Catering for all sports, including football, hockey and netball, they enable PE lessons, extracurricular training and match fixtures to go ahead uninterrupted throughout the year. Various markings are available and the artificial grass is available in different lengths to suit your needs.

The stay-dry outdoor classroom

Outdoor classrooms have become very popular over the last decade with many schools seeing the benefits that open-air learning brings and the advantages of doing more exciting, active lessons where children have the space to move around and make use of the outdoor environment. One of the downsides is that, too frequently, these lessons take place only during the warm spring and summer days and as a result, rather than being scheduled into a scheme of work, they usually only happen on the hoof when there’s a particularly sunny day.

One way to extend outdoor teaching throughout the school year is to install a class-sized shelter. Our octagonal shelters, for example, come with a range of purpose-built features that make them ideal for such purposes. They are roofed, to keep out the rain and provide seating for the whole class, with windbreaker side panels to keep cold breezes off the children’s backs. Benches are provided for seating and these are arranged in an octagonal formation, making them ideal for circle-time activities. The shelters can even come with whiteboards or blackboards preinstalled.

Conclusion

Bad weather can seriously impact day to day school-life, closing down playgrounds, halting PE lessons and preventing outdoor learning from taking place. However, with the right surfacing and shelters, it is possible to make use of your outdoor spaces in all but the harshest of weather conditions.

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Latest School Playground Seating and Shelter Solutions

As schools strive to improve the quality of their playgrounds and develop them into places for learning and recreation, they face two common challenges: finding practical playground seating and providing shelter from the elements. Today, there is a range of different solutions you can choose from to solve these problems and in this post, we’ll look at what they are.

literacy and phonics

Outdoor seating for al fresco eating

Lack of internal space and shorter lunch times means schools often lack the capacity to seat all children in the dining hall. This leads to hurried service, overcrowding and children turning up late to afternoon lessons. While the most common solution is to let kids who bring packed lunches eat them in a classroom, that classroom often needs a good clean-up before the next lesson starts.

One way to take the pressure off is to install outdoor picnic benches. Strong and sturdy, each one can accommodate a small group of children who can sit and eat together in comfort.

Picnic benches come in a range of sizes, shapes (rectangle or circular) and designs, most with the seating built-in. There is also a specially adapted picnic table that is suitable for wheelchair users.

Make your playground a seat of learning

Outdoor learning often involves children working in groups and there are a number of seating options that are ideal for this. These include our log amphitheatres which enable the group to form a three-sided audience with space in the middle for the teacher or another group member to present to them. Amphitheatres are available in single, double and three-tier versions, enabling you to cater for groups of different sizes. It is also possible to install a wooden stage in front of the amphitheatre to create an outdoor performance space.

Another popular solution for primary schools is to create storytelling circles using padded log seats and mushroom seats. You can add to the magic by putting one of our storytelling chairs in the centre of the circle. These are excellent for outdoor storytelling and reading sessions or for circle time.

Finally, there are specially designed handwriting practice tables. These mini picnic benches, featuring a number of switchable, ruled whiteboard surfaces, are designed for younger children to work in pairs or with one to one support.

Social seating for recreation

literacy and phonics

While all the seating mentioned above can be used by children to sit and chat with their friends during break times, there are others available as well. These include planter seats which incorporate wooden planters, allowing you to grow flowers or shrubs to create a more pleasant playground environment. If you have trees in your outdoor area, we also have a hexagonal tree bench which goes around the trunk. This is a great choice to give children somewhere shady to sit on hot days or for them to find a bit of natural shelter in the rain.

There is also an assortment of benches, including log benches, crooked benches and even benches that have green painted wooden tree posts built-in. One of our most popular benches is the sunshine seat, a version of an amphitheatre that looks like a sun with rays coming out. The rays, of course, are additional seats that help create five mini seating bays to accommodate different groups of friends.

Finally, there is also a range of games tables, mini picnic benches with an assortment of traditional board games built into the table-top, these include snakes and ladders, Connect 4, solitaire, noughts and crosses, chequers and more.

Shelters for learning

literacy and phonics

Octagonal shelters are ideal outdoor classrooms. Open to the air but with inbuilt seating, walls high enough for backrests and a roof to keep the rain or sun at bay, they offer the ideal circle for teaching and learning. They can even come with a whiteboard or blackboard and can be finished with decked flooring. You can use these shelters for a variety of outdoor learning scenarios: for performing drama or dance, for whole-class reading, class debates or as a place to base lessons which require pupils to explore the wider school environment.

Playground shelters for keeping dry

There are some days when it's perfect for playing out and some days when it’s an obvious no-no. Somewhere in between, are those days when the kids are sent out but it's cold, damp and miserable. While many will just get on and play, there are always those left huddling in corners, shivering in doorways, hiding in the toilets and wandering aimlessly around the school in a desperate attempt to find some warmth and comfort.

A shelter is a simple way to make these kinds of days a little easier on the pupils and to make break duty less of a hassle. Aside from the octagonal shelters mentioned above, there are also shaded pergolas and roofed shelters of differing sizes and with specifications that include seating. All of these can help keep the children dry in drizzly outdoor breaks and keep the sun off their heads when its in danger of causing sunburn. Put next to a wall or in a corner, they can also provide shelter from the wind.

For primary schools, our Woodland and Forest range of products include a number of play huts that are ideal for small groups of children to play in during colder weather, there are even ones with picnic tables so that they can eat outdoors under a roof.

Conclusion

Hopefully, you’ll be pleasantly surprised by the wide variety of seating, benches and shelters now available for schools and the number of uses they can be put to. Together, they truly allow you to create a multi-purpose outdoor space, suitable for all occasions.

For more information visit our shelter and seating sections.

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Ideas for Teaching Literacy and Phonics in the Playground

The TES forums are full of teachers looking for new and innovative ways to teach literacy and phonics. If you are looking for inspiration, you should consider moving some of your lessons outdoors into the playground. With the space to move around and the freedom to make a bit more noise, numerous opportunities present themselves to take your teaching to a different level. Here, we’ll explain how.

literacy and phonics

Reading in the round

When children read or are being read to, they go on an adventure of the mind. You can enhance this journey on clement days by taking them outside, away from the familiarity of the classroom where their minds will be more open to the stories and characters they engage with.

You can do this just by taking the chairs outside or by sitting in a circle on a patch of grass. What would be better, however, is if you had a dedicated story-telling place to go to. Many schools have now created these, often using artificial grass surfacing topped with circular seating. Some even create magical areas with mushroom seats and story-telling chairs

These can be used for whole class or small group sessions and the circle makes it a great place not just for reading but for talking about the stories and the language the writer uses.

Develop literacy through roleplay

To develop their understanding of literacy, children need to explore how characters react to the situations they find themselves in and make predictions about what will happen as the plot develops. One of the best ways to do this is to use roleplay, with the children taking on the roles of the characters in the story.

This is more than just acting out the story. It is putting the characters in imaginary situations that they haven’t encountered in the plot. For example, imagine what Cinderella would say to her friends when she first discovered her father was getting married. How would this conversation change once her father had died and she was left with her stepmother and stepsisters?

A story-telling circle would be a great place for this to happen, with the children acting out in the middle. Alternatively, a small stage could be erected in the playground.

Letters and phonics games

Teaching letters and phonics can be a chore and children can struggle to learn them. It makes it so much easier, however, if this takes place as part of a game where the emphasis is on having fun and the learning is a natural by-product.

Teach a child to play snakes and ladders and they soon learn the values of the numbers on the dice. The same happens when you play letters and phonics games. Luckily, some of these are available as playground markings which can be played on not just in lesson time but during break and lunchtimes as well, where they can extend learning even further.

The letters and phonics markings include Phonic Spots, Footwork Vowels and the Letter Stepper, all of which are variations of hopscotch and similar playground games.

Outdoor mark-making

Mark-making is the first step towards learning to write and children need plenty of practice in order to develop both the dexterity of the hand and familiarity with trying to recreate the shapes. At such an early stage in their development, you don’t need to concentrate entirely on developing these skills with a pencil, any mark-making apparatus will do: board pens, crayons, paintbrushes and even fingers are all helpful.

Outside, children can practice mark-making in more ways than indoors. They can paint and draw on large upright whiteboards or chalk on blackboards where they are using their hands at different angles and creating marks of different sizes, they can even recreate letters by drawing in the sand using a sandbox.

Of course, with so much variety, it is possible to get the children to experiment with different types of mark-making equipment and techniques, helping them to master skills quicker and keeping them engaged with activities.

Vocabulary charades

Charades has been a popular party game for centuries and will be familiar to many children either in its original form or in one of the many modern reinterpretations, such as Rapidough or Pictionary. Its value for teaching literacy comes in its ability to get children to think about the meaning of a word and how to communicate that to other children.

Vocabulary charades, where you give a child a word and they have to act it out to their peers, is a fun way to teach literacy and works well in an outdoor environment, such as in the story-circle. This can be enhanced by getting the children to do improvised roleplay after playing charades, during which they have to use the vocabulary you’ve been learning as often as they can.

Conclusion

With games to play, equipment to experiment with, space to explore and less concern over keeping quiet, the playground can be an inspirational learning space for children. This makes it ideal, when the weather’s fine, as a place for teaching literacy and phonics. Hopefully, you’ll find the ideas we mentioned here useful.

For more information take a look at our Outdoor English Curriculum page.

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Government Puts Physical Activity Back on the School Agenda

The new School Sports and Activity Action Plan, announced in July, is a programme implemented by no less than three Whitehall Departments: the Department for Education, the Department for Health and Social Care and the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport. It’s a major public health initiative and its directives will impact on schools.

What is the action plan aiming to do?

early years outdoor play

The aim of the new action plan is to increase participation in sport and physical activity in order to improve the long term physical and mental health and wellbeing of young people with the hope that they will continue to enjoy healthy lifestyles throughout their lives.

According to the most recent Active Lives Children and Young People survey, a third of young people in the UK still do not do the recommended minimum of 60 minutes of physical activity per day. The action plan seeks to change this by introducing new ways to put sport at the heart of young people’s daily routines. In particular, it seeks to find ways to encourage girls and other social groups that currently do not take part in regular sporting activity.

Ofsted to focus more on physical activity

early years outdoor play

The action plan has been taken into account by the new Ofsted Inspection Framework which comes into effect at the beginning of the 2019-2020 academic year. From September, inspection teams will expect a school’s curriculum to include opportunities for pupils to be active during the school day and through extra-curricular activities.

Specific focus points

The Sports and Activity Action Plan has a number of focused objectives that it wants to see achieved. These include increasing opportunities for girls and those from disadvantaged backgrounds and giving greater access to competitive sports, which it describes as ‘character-building’. As a result, it wants to see that there is equality for boys and girls when it comes to the sports, activities and competitions on offer. In addition, it is looking for schools to offer more modern PE lessons and provide access to high-quality after school clubs and competitions.

Extra funding in place

Although it is by no means a huge capital injection, the Department for Education has provided £2.5 million over the next financial year to help schools. This will be used to deliver additional training for PE staff, assist schools in making their sports facilities available during weekends and holidays, and to provide young people with increased opportunities to become sports leaders and coaches. A further £2 million is to be made available by Sport England with the purpose of setting up 400 new after-school clubs, offering coordinated sporting programmes and competitions for those pupils in disadvantaged areas.

Beyond health

early years outdoor play

Sport and physical activity have long been known to have an impact that goes beyond improving health and the action plan is designed to reap these additional benefits. As a result, all schools in England and Wales need to recognise the importance of physical literacy and modern PE lessons when it comes to improving such things as attainment, pupil behaviour and wellbeing. To increase enjoyment and participation, therefore, the action plan wants pupils to have a greater role in determining the range of sports and physical activities on offer. In doing so, schools are encouraged to provide activities for those pupils who are not motivated by what is currently on offer.

What schools should consider

Essentially, the action plan seeks to integrate sport and exercise into the daily routines of all pupils; it wants to increase the amount of time students spend being active but doing so in a way that will appeal to all, especially those who currently turn their back on traditional sports and activities.

For schools, this means listening to the pupils and finding out what activities they would be more inclined to enjoy. Sports England, for example, is investing £1 million in digital resources for girls, including a range of workout videos with Netflix-appeal, that can be used in schools. Some schools have expanded their offer by buying in third-party providers of equestrian and water sports, others have utilised outdoor spaces to install climbing walls, Trim Trails, outdoor gyms and MUGAs. Even installing simple playground markings can dramatically increase the activities on offer, providing pitch and court markings for football, basketball, netball, cricket, tennis and more.

Conclusion

The School Sports and Activity Action Plan aims to expand physical and sports activity in schools, especially for those pupils who are not currently enticed to take part. With Ofsted taking increased note of the breadth and balance of the curriculum, it is likely that there will be close scrutiny of those schools which do not provide adequate opportunities for all students to take part in sports and physical activity. Hopefully, this article will have given you a greater understanding of what the government is trying to achieve and how schools will be expected to play their part.

If you are looking to offer a wider range of sports and outdoor activities, take a look at our outdoor playground equipment.

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How to Reduce Sickness Absence Through Outdoor Play

Although schools are doing more than ever to increase attendance levels, the rates of absence due to sickness have increased, according to the DfES. One potential reason for this is that today’s children spend far more time indoors than previous generations and so are less immune to common illnesses. Additionally, increased pressure to achieve has led to more children suffering from stress. To reverse these problems, there are calls for schools to encourage more outdoor activities. Here is how outdoor play and outdoor lessons can help.

The Vitamin D effect

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As most people already know, spending time outdoors helps increase our Vitamin D levels. This is because our bodies naturally create Vitamin D when our skin is exposed to sunlight. From April to September, even short periods of exposure to our hands, faces, arms and legs is sufficient to produce all we need.

And while most of us are aware that Vitamin D is essential for healthy bones, it also plays an important role in the function of our immune system, helping our bodies fight off infections. Without Vitamin D, we make ourselves more prone to catching bugs and for schools, this means more children being off school for longer.

There are always a few children away with bugs and colds but, today, there seems to be a significant increase in the number of infections ‘doing the rounds’. Indeed, the situation has become so concerning, that some schools have begun to put up hand sanitisers in the way hospitals do. In the worst cases, schools are even asking parents to keep entire groups of students at home until the infection has passed.

If sunlight exposure and Vitamin D can help improve immunity to these infections, then extending the amount of time children play outside can only be a good thing. Any school considering cutting lunchtime in half to enable an earlier finish should consider how that choice can impact on attendance and wellbeing.

That said, it’s not necessary to extend lunch or breaktimes, rather it’s about increasing the opportunity to be outside. This means putting equipment in the playground that children will want to play on or creating outdoor learning environments where lessons can take place in the fresh air.

The magic of muck

Aside from Vitamin D, the other thing that helps immunity is exposure to the very things that cause us to get ill. Such is the wonder of the human body, that when we are exposed to viruses and bacteria, our bodies learn to fight them. This means the next time we come across them, we deal with them quicker and more effectively.

Unfortunately, children today live in hyper-clean environments where exposure to these microbes is limited. Sanitary product manufacturers have done too good a job at scaring parents into disinfecting everything. Ironically, our desire to protect children from infections has made them less immune to fighting them off.

Although it may seem counterintuitive, letting children participate in mucky play, such as with mud pies, can be good for them. The immunity they develop to the microbes will mean that they are less likely to succumb to infections later on and this can have a positive impact on the number of days they have off ill. Remember, human beings have existed quite well for thousands of years without the need for sanitising gels, anti-bacterial sprays and wet-wipes – it might be far more beneficial to replace these with a mud kitchen.

The benefits of exercise

early years outdoor play markings

When we talk about the benefits of getting children to be active in the playground, it is usually in respect to its impact on their fitness and in reducing obesity. While these are certainly health benefits to be welcomed, we also need to consider that activity can help children to be better at fighting infections.

Exercise, whether it is just walking around or doing more challenging playground activities like playing on climbing equipment, is what causes the lymphatic system to circulate. This is the system that creates the white blood cells that attack infections and then drains the resulting waste away from the bloodstream and organs.

Getting children to be active, therefore, helps them fight infections more effectively and keeps them fit enough to stay at school.

Alleviating stress

Much of the stress suffered by pupils today is a direct result of the pressure put on schools by Ofsted to improve progress and attainment. With no sign of those expectations being diminished, it is up to schools to manage pupil (and staff) workloads in a way which will have a minimum effect on their wellbeing.

While some amount of stress is natural, being overstressed can have an enormous impact on our health, affecting our immune system and stopping us being able to relax, sleep and even eat well. Over the longer term, it can increase the likelihood of serious illnesses, such as stroke, heart disease and cancer. With regard to mental health, it can be linked to depression, anxiety, self-harm, eating disorders and suicide. Those who suffer from stress are also more likely to turn to unhealthy habits as coping mechanisms, for example, smoking, drugs and alcohol.

Today, we are seeing increasing numbers of children taking time off school because of stress. One way to help manage stress and reduce the impact on attendance is to give children more opportunity to work and play outside.

According to the NHS, lack of sunlight can cause part of the brain called the hypothalamus to stop working properly. When this happens, our body produces less of the hormone, serotonin, which we need to lift our mood and cope better with stress. Being in the sunlight, therefore, can help us deal with stress more effectively. In addition, taking part in outdoor physical activity or having somewhere calm and quiet to escape the daily pressures of the classroom can also help us feel less stressed.

Conclusion

Keeping children in school is essential if they are to make consistent progress. However, this is difficult to do if children lack the immunity to fight off infections or are not given the opportunity to participate in activities that alleviate stress. Hopefully, the ideas mentioned here will be useful in helping to keep your pupils healthier and thus improve their attendance.

If you are looking for resources to create outdoor classrooms or for inspirational playground equipment, check out our wide selection of products.

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