Outdoor Classrooms – A Breath of Fresh Air for Post-Lockdown Schools

outdoor classrooms

The long-awaited return to school has now commenced and staff and pupils across the country are facing school days which are radically different to those they remember. The need to prevent the spread of COVID-19 will place many restrictions on schools, impacting not only the delivery of the curriculum but on school life as a whole. An outdoor classroom can make a big difference, providing a safer learning environment in which children can experience a little bit of normality. Here, we’ll take a closer look at modern, outdoor classrooms.

Why schools need outdoor classrooms

Life in the post-lockdown school is going to be far different than what it was before the pandemic. Movement will be severely restricted, both within the school itself and inside the classroom. In secondary schools, where pupils are used to moving from lesson to lesson, many will now find it is the teachers who move while the children stay put. Not only will this prevent pupils from having access to the specialist equipment needed to study the curriculum effectively; it also means they’ll spend most of the day stuck in the same room. And with social distancing essential within the classroom, children of all school ages will have far fewer opportunities to move around or interact.

The effects of this upon pupil wellbeing and academic progress could be significant. Children are much more likely to become anxious about going to school and frustrated, even bored, during the school day. This can impact their mental wellbeing and impede their motivation, especially when the lack of subject-specific equipment, like science or technology apparatus that can’t be moved from classroom to classroom, prevents teachers delivering the curriculum properly.

In such a stifling environment, the outdoor classroom offers a breath of fresh air. Indeed, the circulation of outdoor air, combined with the additional space pupils have to learn, means many of the restrictions enforced inside the classroom can be relaxed. Movement will be freer, with children able to work in small groups more effectively, perhaps carrying out more experimental and investigative work that the new normal won’t permit indoors. The need to keep voices quiet will not be so urgent, either.

At the same time, just taking a break from the same indoor space, even if it is just for a small part of the school day, can break the monotony of being at the same desk, in the same classroom, six hours a day, five days a week. It offers the potential for increased mental stimulation, improved motivation and better wellbeing.

Equipping the modern outdoor classroom

While there is nothing wrong with getting pupils to hoick their chairs out into the playground for a lesson, there are plenty of more modern and stimulating alternatives. Today, there is a plethora of outdoor learning equipment available, including subject-specific resources covering many areas of the EYFS, primary and secondary curricula.

Starting with the basics, playground seating comes in a wide variety, ranging from fun mushroom seats and storytelling chairs for younger learners to full-class size, octagonal shelters with built-in seats, whiteboards, windbreaking backrests and that essential roof that lets you use it in most weather conditions. This, however, is only scratching the surface; there are tables, benches, amphitheatres, handwriting tables, sit down easels and much more available.

When it comes to delivering the curriculum, there is a multitude of outdoor classroom equipment available for teachers to use. This includes interchangeable, subject-specific work panels, affixed to permanent posts, that cater for almost every curriculum area. Able to be taken down at the end of each lesson for cleaning and storage, with the post then left for the next teacher, they are an ideal solution for outdoor learning. They can be used to display learning objectives and instructions or for pupils to write, draw, measure, calculate and take notes. Subject-specific versions are available for art, design and technology, English, geography, history, maths, MFL, music, PE and science, and include features such as abacuses, coordinate grids, timelines, moving clock faces and much more.

There are also more elaborate types of equipment, such as weather stations for measuring and monitoring precipitation, temperature and wind, or biology investigation tables that can be used to look at soil samples and see how plant root systems grow underground. When it comes to music and drama, there are outdoor stages to perform on, amphitheatres to perform within and fun, outdoor, percussion instruments, like xylophones and drainpipe drums, to make music with.

Conclusion

An outdoor classroom offers a touch of normality to post-lockdown school life. Working in a safer outdoor environment with fewer restrictions and much more space to learn can bring much-needed relief from the monotony of being stuck in the same space. As a result, it can improve pupil wellbeing and motivation and, when well-equipped with subject-specific, outdoor classroom equipment, gives teachers far more scope to deliver the curriculum.

For more information, visit our Outdoor Curriculum page.

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5 Tips on How to Equip an Outdoor Classroom

Children love learning outdoors when the weather is warm. It gets them some well needed fresh air, stops them feeling cooped up and can be a real relief from the stifling heat of poorly ventilated classrooms. The problem for many schools, however, is that taking learning outdoors isn’t practical as they just don’t have the resources. Well, not anymore. Now it’s possible to resource an outdoor space so that it can be used for a wide range of subject areas. In this post, we’ll give you five tips on how to equip your outdoor classroom.

1. Make sure you have the right playground flooring

If children are going to work outdoors, it’s likely that, at some stage, they will need to write or draw. The most comfortable position for this without a chair and desk is to sit or lay on the floor. Hard playground surfaces, however, aren’t good for this. They are uncomfortable and often leave children’s uniforms covered in a layer of dust or dirt. Softer surfaces, like grass, are much more suitable.

If you have a grassy area, then this would be the ideal place to locate your outdoor classroom. If you don’t have natural grass, you should consider installing artificial grass. It’s just as comfortable and clean to sit on, with the added advantages that it doesn’t need maintaining or mowing like real grass and doesn’t get muddy. Alternatively, you can also use a rubber wetpour surface which has a cushioned or padded feel to it. Either of these surfaces would be perfect for children to sit on and lay on to write.

2. Get some outdoor work benches

If you need a few tables and chairs for children to sit at, it isn’t always practical to carry ones from the classroom out into the yard. Picnic tables are a much better solution. They can be left out in the playground and used during break times and lunchtimes, too.

Alternatively, you can purchase curriculum based picnic style tables, with interchangeable tops such as our handwriting practice tabletop and MFL practice tabletop. These allow pupils to work on specific curriculum areas whilst sat at the tables.

3. Get subject specific outdoor resources

Wouldn’t it be great if you could install wooden posts in your playground to which you could easily attach a range of interchangeable, subject specific, working panels? Especially if you could put them up when you need them and take them down when you were finished. Well, you can – and there is a multitude to choose from covering almost every curriculum area and every age from EYFS to KS4.

Interchangeable panels can be used by staff to write out learning objectives and instructions or used by pupils to write, draw, measure, calculate, note take and much more. When you’re finished, simply wipe clean, take down and put them away for safe storage.

ESP Play outdoor curriculum panels are much more than simple outdoor whiteboards. Most of them incorporate useful tools such as abacuses, coordinate grids, weather measurement instruments (for measuring rainfall and windspeed), timelines, moving clock faces, etc.

These boards are designed to be useful and hard wearing outdoor classroom resources that can save teachers time and engage children in their lessons. Currently, we provide outdoor panels for the following subject areas: art and design, design and technology, English, geography, history, maths, MFL, music, PE and science. We also provide cross-curricular panels too.

4. Put your pupils on a pedestal

Outdoor lessons are great for groupwork and one of the best ways to finish off is to get the children to show the rest of the class what they have achieved. The ideal place to do this is on a raised platform where they can be seen clearly by everyone.

You can install a raised stage area inexpensively in any playground and putting one in your outdoor classroom is an easy way to create a focal point where the teacher or groups of children can present to others.  

Perfect for performances, presentations, speeches and showcasing work, we have a range of stages at ESP Play, including square, triangular, half stage and octagonal shaped stages.

5. Protect pupils from the sun

Whilst it is great to work outdoors, sometimes there is the risk of sunburn or sunstroke if it gets too hot. Providing an area where children can get some shade from direct sunlight whilst continuing with their lesson can be a useful addition to your outdoor classroom. It can also help if there’s an unexpected spot of rain.

Outdoor shading can be provided in three different way. The simplest form is a sail cover – a weatherproof canvas attached to the top of fixed poles. Alternatively, there is a range of pergolas available, including ones with built-in seats and decked flooring. Finally, you can install wooden structures, such as our large octagonal shelter, which comes with tiered seating, sides and a trellis.

All these shading products would be helpful not just for outdoor lessons but for use at break and lunchtimes. The large octagonal shelter can even be used to host some open-air performances.

Conclusion

Many schools are now developing outdoor classrooms as a way to enrich the curriculum and engage pupils in a wider range of activities. Here at ESP Play, we have been listening to what our customers have been saying and have responded by producing many of the resources these schools have been asking for. If you are considering creating your own outdoor classroom, we hope you’ll find these resources useful to you.

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7 Curriculum Areas That Can Benefit from Outdoor Equipment

When schools think about installing outdoor play equipment they often look at a playground simply as a playground and don’t consider the ways it can be used to enhance learning. At ESP Play, we’ve spent years developing products for specific curriculum areas that let you turn your playground into an outdoor classroom which can be used in lessons or for children to use during break times.

To give you an idea of what you can achieve in your own playground, we’ve put together a list of seven curricular areas that can benefit from installing outdoor equipment.

1. Communication and language

Put a stage in a playground and it can be used during lessons for performing plays, music, dance and poetry. You can make as much noise as you like without having to disrupt neighbouring classes whilst giving children the chance to express themselves in fresh air.

During break times, outdoor stages become natural focal points where groups of children will create their own roleplays to show to their friends. They really are the ultimate children’s roleplay equipment, giving pupils the impetus to communicate with those who are watching.

It is a great way to encourage development in communication and language and is ideal for English, drama and music lessons.

2. Physical development

If you want playground equipment that offers pupils great fun and can be used for physical development during free times and PE lessons, then installing a Trim Trail is the ideal solution. Exciting to play on, Trim Trails help develop body strength, stamina, balance and coordination.

One of the biggest advantages for schools is that children love to play on them – they are a natural way to encourage participation in physical activity. You can also create your own bespoke trails, putting together different elements suited to your pupils’ ages and needs. You can even install equipment with easily interchangeable parts, letting you offer an even greater choice of activities.

3. Personal, social and emotional development

Social interaction is one of the key ingredients in driving personal, social and emotional development and this can be achieved in the playground simply by laying better playground flooring or adding a range of playground markings.

Both flooring and markings are excellent ways to encourage children to play together and interact. Your flooring choice can help make children feel safer and thus make them less inhibited, whilst the wide range of playground markings available give opportunities to children to participate in traditional, modern and self-invented playground activities, games and sports.

4. Literacy

One of the main curricular areas, developing literacy is a key focus for every school. A way to enhance and expand your literacy provision is to give pupils the chance to participate in English lessons outdoors.

Working outdoors can be a great inspiration when undertaking creative writing tasks and by using specially designed outdoor English equipment this is now possible for the whole class, small groups and even for one to one work for pupils who need to work with your classroom assistant.

You’ll also find that our range of boards and writing tables are perfect for outdoor handwriting activities which some children may want to do during break times.

5. Mathematics

Another key curriculum area that can benefit from being taught in your outdoor space is mathematics. Installing curriculum focused playground maths equipment is a great way to deliver fun and exciting outdoor maths activities that free you from the confines of the classroom and enable you to cover everything from basic adding to tessellation and symmetry. They are ideal for collaborative group work and for whole class active lessons.

What’s more, with maths-based games like battle boards (battleships) and soma cubes, you’re bound to keep the learning going through break and lunchtimes too, as these naturally interactive pieces will keep children engaged and entertained even during their free time.

6. Understanding the world

Children are fascinated by seeing nature in action and giving them access to it in your outdoor play area is a great way to encourage learning whilst enabling teachers to deliver essential elements of the science curriculum.

You can achieve this by installing our forest school equipment which will enable you to create your school’s own nature garden. This wide range of science-based, outdoor equipment can be used to study plant growth and insect life cycles, grow food, feed birds and investigate soils.

At the same time, you are creating a natural space in your playground which gives children much-needed access to nature whilst encouraging respect for wildlife and the environment at the same time.

7. Art and design

Children love art and design but there never seems to be enough curriculum time available to satisfy their appetite. However, it is now possible to give your pupils the chance to do some playground painting during their free time by installing specially designed outdoor art and design equipment in your playground.

Using chalkboards, dry wipe boards or a painting station, children can take inspiration from the outdoors to exercise their imaginations and develop their creative skills. What’s great about this equipment is that the pieces are interchangeable, so you can take them down and swap them over whenever you want.

They are also ideal for using in art lessons, especially when the sun is shining and you want to take advantage of the great outdoors and natural lighting.

Your playground is one of the biggest assets that your school has, yet for many schools it is much under used. With a little bit of investment, you can turn your outdoor play area into a fully functional, outdoor learning resource centre that can be utilised during lesson times and be a source of fun, excitement and extended learning during break and lunch times.    

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Army of 20,000 Volunteers Needed To Boost Outdoor Play

Source – BBC News – By Judith Burns

An army of 20,000 volunteers will be needed for a new initiative to help children play safely outdoors, say campaigners. They will be asked to help build new playgrounds, staff existing ones, run play schemes and street parties. The government has given £2m to help local groups boost outdoor play in their communities. Campaign group Play England says children should be able to play outside after school or in the holidays.

The group’s director Catherine Prisk said: “Playing outside, chalking on the pavement. climbing trees and riding your bike are simple pleasures that many of today’s children are missing out on. “Play is essential for children’s health and happiness now, and for making friends, building key skills for the future and for feeling you are part of a community.”

‘Never climbed a tree’

The money, from the Big Society Fund, will be divided among 17 local and national organisations dedicated to improving facilities and opportunities for play. The organisations will match fund the government award. According to Clare Colvine of Play England, part of the National Children’s Bureau, volunteers will be asked to help according to their skills. “For example one person could be asked to help dig a paddling pool but someone with good web skills might be asked to construct an online map of outdoor play facilities in particular area,” she said.

A growing body of research has found that today’s children do not have the same chances to play outside as their parents. For example a survey published by Play England last year showed that one third of today’s children had never built a den or climbed a tree. One in ten said they had never ridden a bike. Figures from the same survey, conducted by OnePoll last June, revealed that seven out of 10 families felt that taking their children to an outside space to play was a real treat.

Minister for civil society Nick Hurd said: “this is all part of our drive to create a bigger stronger society where people are empowered to make a difference to their community.” The 17 organisations involved have formed the Free Time Consortium which will not only improve play in their own areas but produce resource and information packs for other groups hoping to follow suit.

The consortium includes groups in Tyneside, Manchester, Birmingham, London, Milton Keynes and Plymouth

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