The Importance of Nature in the School Playground

It has never been more important to provide a natural space in the school playground for children to play in. Nature offers both benefits and opportunities, but the way we live today means children have very limited access to it. A form of social deprivation that has a lasting effect, it’s a problem where schools can, in some ways, make a difference. Here, we’ll look at what value a nature area can bring to the school playground.

Addressing sustainability

The number one issue facing the human race in the twenty-first century is the environment. The pollution and destruction created by the way we live are having a hugely damaging impact on nature and us. Carbon emissions, toxic engine fumes, industrial leaks, plastic pollution, deforestation, the list goes on. The consequences, of course, are also widespread: global warming and climate change, the loss of natural habitats and extinction, and impoverished health.

Tackling such a global issue is a gargantuan task that needs everyone to understand the issues and, more importantly, change the way they live to become more sustainable. This, however, is harder to do for those whose access to nature is minimal. Nature poverty makes it hard for children to truly appreciate the wonders of the environment: the variety of flora and fauna and their critical role in maintaining fragile ecosystems.

The way children live today makes it difficult for them to spend time with nature, especially those living in urban areas. Few get to play out in green areas as much as their parents did, many don’t have gardens at home and lots of those that do are seeing nature being stripped out to make way for car parking and decking.

A nature area in the school playground which is freely accessible during breaktimes can make a real difference to children’s appreciation and understanding of nature. It will help them learn to value it in a way that makes them want to lead more sustainable lives. At the same time, that area will also provide other benefits: the greenery will improve the local air quality, it will have beneficial effects on the local microclimate and will become a new habitat for plants and wildlife.

Enriching lives

A school nature area benefits children in many ways. It’s air-cleansing, oxygen-enriching properties, for example, can make the playground a healthier place to spend time, especially for those schools located near busy roads.

Adding greenery also has mental health benefits. Green is the most calming of colours (its why actors wait in a green room before going on stage) and this can help pupils reduce stress and anxiety and restore a bit of balance after the challenges of the classroom. Indeed, such areas are highly inviting and on warm days, you’ll find groups of children naturally gravitate towards them to enjoy the peaceful experience of just sitting in the sun and mopping up the vista of plants, shrubs and trees around them.

Nature zones are also excellent for more vigorous physical activities. Though you may not want pupils to climb trees and roll down grass bankings (something the National Trust says every child should have experienced by the time they are 11 and ¾), they are perfect places to install natural wood play equipment like climbing frames, Trim Trails and play towers, that blend in perfectly with the area.

Nature areas are also ideal for the outdoor curriculum. They are great places for storytelling circles, offer unlimited opportunities for art classes and are the very best place to investigate the local soil, flora, fauna and weather. They also make the ideal spot to grow those sunflowers and runner beans whose study is a key feature of the primary science curriculum. With such a wide variety of outdoor curriculum equipment available today, a nature area can be a valuable resource for enriching children’s learning.

Creating a school nature area

Many schools already have suitable areas on-site, though not all of them allow children access because they are near to car parks or away from the main playground. Redesigning your outdoor space to provide access and installing or moving fencing to keep children safe from traffic can overcome these often easily solvable problems.

For schools with tarmac playgrounds, landscaping may be needed to remove some of the hard surfacing to create a nature zone in the most suitable place for plant life. Planters and trellises can be used to create the boundaries and internal environment, allowing the installation of living walls and the introduction of small trees, shrubs and a variety of plants. The area can be landscaped and turfed, using grass matting to reduce erosion and to prevent the area from becoming muddy, or if you choose, you can install artificial grass. Though this isn’t real, it will complement the plants and brings the benefits of never getting muddy or needing cutting. The visual result will be more or less the same. The finishing touch will be to add things that encourage wildlife to the area, such as bird tables, butterfly boxes and insect habitats.

Conclusion

Giving children access to nature, especially those who are most likely to be deprived of it, can have enormous benefits. It can change their attitude to sustainability, improve wellbeing and health and help them deal with the pressures of the classroom. For schools too, it offers the ability to improve the school environment for all and provides greater opportunities for an enriched outdoor curriculum.

For more information, visit our Nature and Garden page.

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Sprucing Up a School Playground on a Budget

Is your school playground in need of sprucing up but you lack the budget for a complete overhaul? It’s a common problem and one we regularly help our customers with. With years of playground design and installation experience behind us, here are our top tips for revitalising a tired school playground.

1. Establish play zones

If your current space is uncoordinated, it can make it difficult for children to get the most from it, especially if those taking part in various activities find themselves getting in the way of others. If they are always getting interrupted, it can stop them joining in their favourite pastimes. Haphazard playground layouts can also increase the risk of accidents or injury.

The way around this is to divide up your playground into discrete activity zones. These help keep activities separate and give you better control over playground safety. Zones can be separated in a number of ways, such as installing a row of planted shrubs or trellises, picket fencing or the laying of a pathway. By keeping the separators low and enabling them to be seen through, the playground can remain an open and inviting area, but one where every activity has its home. Occasionally, you might need to move a piece of equipment, but this is not always essential.

For more information on zones, read our article How to Design an EYFS Playground.

2. Install traditional playground markings

Inexpensive and simple to install, playground markings are an ideal problem solver for offering children more things to do in the playground. The wide variety of markings now available mean you can offer endless hours of fun to children. There are markings for traditional games, like hopscotch, sports, like football and basketball, learning games, like footwork vowels, and even roadways, complete with roundabouts, zebra crossings and parking bays.

Highly colourful and long-lasting, they are a great way to create more enjoyable outdoor experiences and inspire more children to take part in physical activity.

3. Add variety to your playground equipment

Watch any child in the playground and you’ll notice that they like a variety of things to do. They may have their favourite activities and pieces of equipment, but there will always be times when they have had enough of these. If your playground update is going to be limited, then it is a good idea to bring in something completely new that the children have never had access to before. So, if you were thinking of replacing your old play tower with a new one, rather than changing like for like, keep the old play tower if it is still used and in a safe condition and invest in something that expands the opportunities on offer.

There are endless things to choose from: climbing frames, mud kitchens, sandpits, magnetic water walls, basketball nets, outdoor instruments, play boats, you name it. When choosing, it is a good idea, once again, to think of zones. Could you create a messy play area, a creativity zone, a climbing zone, an obstacle course, a sensory area? What do the children want and need? What would make a difference?

4. Don’t’ forget socialising and relaxation

While children like to take part in activities, the older they get, the more time they will want to spend relaxing after the challenges of the classroom and chatting with their friends. This is one need that many playgrounds are poorly equipped to offer, but it doesn’t take much to turn it around.

For socialising, children just need somewhere comfortable to sit in small groups. This can easily be done by putting some picnic tables and benches in a sunny spot. If you want to add a bit of protection from the elements, you could install an octagonal shelter, pergola or even a play hut.

When it comes to relaxing, this is best achieved by providing a less busy area with a touch of nature. If you have a natural area of greenery, this is the perfect location; however, if you haven’t, you can section off a quiet corner of the playground with trellises, put some seating on the inside and use artificial grass and planters to create that calming feeling that children sometimes crave in the hectic playground. Indeed, for stressed pupils or those with anxiety and other needs, such areas can offer important respite during the school day.

5. Ask children’s opinions

If you intend to make improvements to your playground, its always wise to consult the major stakeholders, even if they are very young. Getting feedback will give you a better understanding of what the children want for their outdoor space and ensure that the improvements you make are in line with their wishes.

One of the best ways to do this is with a survey which looks at the equipment you have already got and at proposed additions. This way, you can find out what they like and don’t like in the current playground and what they would like to see in the future.

Conclusion

It can be difficult sprucing up a tired playground when you don’t have the budget for a major revamp. Careful consideration of how to use the space, bringing in variety rather than replacing old equipment, making use of affordable playground markings and creating a place for socialising and relaxation can all help. However, don’t forget to ask the children what they would like.

For more ideas, visit our Products page.

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Top of the Class: Standout Playground Equipment for Schools

While modern playground design centres around the creation of different zones that offer variety and provide inclusivity, it’s common practice to include at least one item of standout equipment. Acting at the centrepiece of the design, it is usually something that immediately draws the eye and has a magnetic effect on the pupils. Today, there are some truly phenomenal pieces of playground equipment available for schools and in this post, we’ll showcase the very best of our collection.

Freeflow Conquest

Kids of all ages love to pit their wits against the challenge of a climbing frame but the Freeflow Conquest takes it to the next level. Taking up almost 14 x 12 metres of space, it is an installation with capacity for lots of children and which offers a huge variety of different physical challenges and an even wider range of routes in which to tackle them.

Designed for children aged 5 to 16, it comprises 9 interconnecting platforms that children need to navigate through. Getting from A to B may require them to climb traversing walls, swinging tyre bridges, log bridges, rope bridges, stepping logs and more. Challenges range in difficulty to suit children of differing ages and ability.

The Conquest is just one of a range of Freeflow products, each available in different sizes and with different challenges.

Trim Trails Obstacle Course

The Trim Trails range is a selection of individual, wooden climbing challenge pieces. What makes this standout equipment is that you can pick and choose specific pieces to create an obstacle course that is perfect for the needs of your pupils and which fits the size and shape of your playground.

There are almost 60 different challenges you can choose from to create your own Trim Trails, these include jungle bars, wobbly planks and bridges, tyre bridges and steppers, rope traverses, twisty rope challenges, stepping logs, dip bars, leapfrog posts and more. What’s more, there are 4 ranges for different age groups, so that pupils from early years to secondary are catered for with appropriate challenge.

The Tangled Cobweb

Looking like a giant spider rising out of its web, this piece of apparatus is certainly eye-catching and will provide a dramatic focal point for any playground design. The Tangled Cobweb offers a series of vertical, horizontal and inclined climbing and traversing challenges on both ropes and logs. There is a multitude of different routes that can be taken to get from A to B, meaning children can explore almost unlimited pathways and have endless fun.

The Tangled range, as the name suggests, offers pupils highly exciting rope challenges which have to be mastered to navigate across the equipment. Each piece in the Tangled range is uniquely exciting and no two pieces are the same.

The Windsor Play Castle

Why have a play tower when you can have a play castle? As the name implies, the Windsor Play Castle is the grandest and most magnificent of them all. Taking up almost 10 square metres of space, it is a mini theme park for children, with all the trimmings of a medieval castle.

The castle features a centrepiece tower and slide with connected ramparts on either side creating a central courtyard. To get from A to B, children face a wide variety of fun challenges and obstacles, including traversing ramps and walls, climb through tunnels, inclined wobbly bridges, rigging ramps, rope bridges and more.

Truly capturing a child’s imagination, this piece of apparatus is great for both physical activity and inspiring fantastic roleplay adventures. Suitable for children aged 5 to 11.

The AllGo+ Gym

Put the fun back into fitness and provide equipment that can be used for both the curriculum and personal training by pupils. The AllGo+ Gym offers a complete suite of fitness equipment, professionally laid out on its own attractive octagonal surfacing.

Designed for secondary school pupils and requiring only the lifting of body weight, it provides pupils with safe accessibility to gym equipment that can also be used in PE lessons or sports training. The gym includes swinging monkey bars, multi-height circle steps, pull-up bars, different height press-up bars, flat and inclined sit-up benches, step-ups, leg raisers and markings for footwork balance and agility. Each piece is clearly labelled with instructions about how to use it correctly and safely. There is also a separate Health and Safety information post that can be placed at the entrance to the gym. Suitable for pupils over 1.4m tall.

Conclusion

The equipment shown here includes some of our standout and most popular products for school playgrounds. They are, however, just the tip of the iceberg, we have many more very special items that are ideal for a wide range of purposes. From messy play areas, nature equipment, outdoor curriculum resources and musical instruments to playground markings, surfacing, MUGAs, shelters and furniture. Whatever you need for your playground, we can supply it, install it and design the playground your pupils deserve.

For more information, visit our homepage.

 

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How Outdoor Play Helps Children with ADHD

Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) is a behavioural disorder in which children display high levels of hyperactivity, inattention and impulsiveness. It’s quite a common disorder which affects, depending on which diagnostic method is used, up to 7% of UK children. ADHD can have a significant impact on sufferers, disrupting their learning and affecting their behaviour. Their behaviour can also disrupt the learning of others.

While coping with ADHD can be a challenge for both the child and the teacher, outdoor play has been shown to help, giving the child a break from studying, enabling them to socialise with friends and allowing them to let off steam by being physically active. Here, we’ll look in more detail at the benefits of outdoor play for children with ADHD.

Stops children feeling isolated and stigmatised

The tell-tale signs of ADHD are most noticeable in the classroom where quiet and stillness are often required to get on with work. Those with ADHD will be aware that their behaviour is different to others and this can make them feel like an outsider. The problem is exacerbated when everyone else becomes aware that their behaviour is different too. Regular reminders or telling off from the teacher, complaints from other pupils or constantly being withdrawn from lessons to work with the TA can make the child feel both isolated and stigmatised.

In the playground, where there is no need to be still and quiet, the differences in behaviour are less noticeable and important. This enables children with ADHD to feel more at ease in their surroundings and take part in social activities, lessening their isolation and helping combat feelings of stigmatisation.

The other key advantage is that children with ADHD can often take part in structured outdoor games better than they can in structured lessons. Because they can move around and display their hyperactivities while taking part in games, they can improve self-discipline and focus; skills which can be used elsewhere in their lives, including in the classroom.

A release for pent-up energy

Most children find it difficult to maintain long periods of classroom study without becoming restless. For those with ADHD, even sustaining short periods of concentration can be a struggle. To combat this, play has become an important therapy for ADHD, enabling children to be physically active and burn off pent up energy. This makes them feel calmer and better able to cope in classroom environments.

For the most benefit, schools need to offer children with ADHD the opportunity to take part in physically demanding activities, such as playing on climbing frames, taking part in sports or doing activities that involve running and jumping.

Helps children learn better

Taking part in regular, moderate to intense physical activity has been shown to have an important role in developing the cognitive abilities of all children. It can also reduce the symptoms of ADHD, at least temporarily. Regular outdoor play, therefore, is important and can help children with the disorder focus better on their lessons and improve the quality of their learning.

Importantly, this works better when breaks are at scheduled times and are rarely cancelled. As children with ADHD become familiar with the structure of the day, their knowledge that a break is around the corner helps them focus that little bit longer during the lesson. This is one of the reasons why schools should not cancel break times at the first sign of rain and why, if needed, those with ADHD should be offered an extra break if it helps them settle.

Additionally, schools that punish the disruptive behaviour of ADHD students by keeping them in during break times may find this approach worsens the problem rather than rectifying it.

Improves social skills

Besides impeding the academic development of children, ADHD can also affect their ability to develop relationships and acquire social skills. Aside from the feeling of isolation and being stigmatised, those with ADHD are often physically removed from their peers, either working in isolation with the TA or, in some instances, being taught in SEND rooms away from their classmates all together.

Separating children from their peers not only reduces opportunities for them to develop relationships and improve social skills; it can also build boundaries. Both the child with ADHD and their peers thinking of them as ‘different’.

Regular opportunities to take part in unstructured free play provides a more inclusive environment in which those boundaries can be taken down and in which relationships can flourish. Not only will children with ADHD acquire those essential social skills; they will also take them back into the classroom where they can help the children better manage their behaviour. This in turn can lead to fewer incidents of working on their own.

Creating a playground for children with ADHD

Children with ADHD need three things from their playgrounds: the opportunity to take part in active play, the chance to interact with their peers and a touch of calming greenery. Active play can be introduced by installing climbing equipment, such as Trim Trails and play towers, or with playground markings for games and sports, like football. Interaction can be encouraged in many ways, such as through messy or imaginative play as well as through climbing and sports. Adding a touch of nature is easy, too, and can be achieved with nature and garden equipment, like planters, trellises and artificial grass.

Conclusion

ADHD is a common disorder that can have a serious impact on the education of those children who suffer from it. Outdoor play allows those children to release pent up energy so they can focus better in the classroom and, at the same time, removes their feelings of isolation, enabling them to develop relationships and acquire social skills.

For more information about the equipment mentioned here, visit our Products page.

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The Importance of Outdoor Play for Key Worker and Vulnerable Children

The latest lockdown means that for the first few months of 2021, the only pupils attending school are vulnerable children and the children of key workers. While schools must maintain effective social distancing measures to reduce the risk of infection from the new variant of COVID-19, ensuring that those children get the chance for outdoor play is also vitally important. Here’s why.

Vitamin D and COVID-19

According to a recent article in The Guardian, many doctors believe that vitamin D can help people’s ability to fight respiratory infections, like Coronavirus. Indeed, some even wrote to the British Medical Journal describing vitamin D as ‘a potential, significant, feasible Covid-19 mitigation remedy’. After a number of convincing medical trials during the pandemic, in November, Health Secretary, Matt Hancock, ordered Nice and Public Health England to produce recommendations on vitamin D for the treatment and prevention of coronavirus.

While vitamin D is not a panacea for COVID-19, there’s a growing body of evidence that shows it helps the human body’s immune system to fight it. The problem for most of the UK population is that, particularly in winter when we get less exposure to sunlight, we are vitamin D deficient. While some foodstuffs are fortified with vitamin D  and we can take supplements, the natural way to increase the amount of vitamin D we have is through being outside. Even on cloudy, winter days, sunlight hitting our skin causes our bodies to produce it.

For those children still attending school during the third lockdown, the ability to go outside is extremely limited and playtimes offer their best chance of sunlight exposure. Giving them adequate time in the playground, even if socially distanced, can help bolster their immune systems.

Improving mental health

The impact of the lockdown on the mental health of school children has been constantly in the news and is one of the major reasons so many educationalists and health professionals are reluctant to see schools closed. Closeted in their homes from April to September and rarely allowed to socialise with their friends, many struggled with their mental health, with increasing numbers developing depression and anxiety. While there was some relief from this when schools opened in September, this now has come to an end for the foreseeable future and children will once again suffer.

The importance of giving vulnerable children and the children of key workers time for social activities in school cannot be underestimated. The ability to play and chat together, even if from a distance, allows them to reinforce friendships, discuss each other’s problems and have some much-missed opportunities to do enjoyable things - all of which can help improve mental health.

Restoring physical health

While some pupils will be making the most of their daily exercise allowance, the majority probably won’t. Over the last year, they will have already missed out on a significant amount of exercise, whether that’s just walking to school and back every day, playing with their friends, taking part in PE lessons or out of school activities. As a result, the physical health of school-aged children, nationwide, will have suffered, with them being physically weaker, less fit and at even greater risk of obesity. This, too, can make them more susceptible to infection.

Those still able to attend school, therefore, should be encouraged to participate in moderate to intense physical activity as often as possible. Ideally, they need an hour of moderate exercise every day. The pandemic, however, means some kinds of exercise are off-limits as school risk assessments may prevent the use of certain kinds of playground equipment or activities. This may limit physical exercise to games played at a distance or to activities like the Daily Mile.

That said, under the current lockdown restrictions the government has decided to keep public playgrounds open for children. This includes, according to the Gov.uk website, equipment such as slides, monkey bars, climbing frames, activity towers, swings and sandpits. These pieces of equipment are also installed in many school playgrounds and, if adequate social distancing and hygiene protocols are followed, might provide school children with the opportunity to take part in more enjoyable forms of active play.

Conclusion

While vulnerable children and the children of keyworkers can attend school, teachers have the potential to offer them vital outdoor provision. This will enable them to increase vitamin D levels to boost their immune system, socialise and participate in free play to improve mental health and take part in moderate physical activity to restore physical health and fitness to where it was before the pandemic began.

For information about our range of playground equipment, visit our Products page.

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