7 Different Ways That Children Play

ways children play

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

1. Solo play

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

2. Social play

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

3. Free play

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

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

4. Unstructured play

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

5. Physical play

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

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

6. Sensory play

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

7. Creative play

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

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

Conclusion

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

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

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The Importance of Play in EYFS Ofsted Inspections

Playground Climbing Equipment

The Ofsted publication ‘Teaching and play in the early years – a balancing act?’ was written to address ‘the recurring myth that teaching and play are separate, disconnected endeavours in the early years.’ It is clear from this statement that play is an integral part of the learning process and, as such, will be scrutinised during EYFS inspections. Here, we take a closer look at what Ofsted will look at and what it expects.

According to the EYFS Inspection Framework, inspectors visiting a school, nursery or other EYFS provider ‘must spend as much time as possible gathering evidence about the quality of care, teaching and learning by observing the children at play.’ In particular, they will look at how staff interact with children during both planned and child-initiated play activities to see how they communicate and model language. Besides examining how staff explain, demonstrate, explore ideas, encourage and question, they will also look at how they facilitate and set challenges, taking into account the equipment provided and the attention given to the physical environment.

Crucially, this applies to both indoor and outdoor play and is the first indication in the framework that the quality of the outdoor space and playground equipment, and how these are used for learning, are important elements of the inspection process.

 

Communication and language

Communication and language are two of the main areas of learning that inspectors will focus on according to the inspection framework, because ‘the development of children’s spoken language underpins all 7 areas of learning and development’ in EYFS. Additionally, it says that a key part of an inspector’s information gathering around communication and language will come through ‘incidental conversations prompted by observing the children at play and the interactions between them and adults.’ With this being a key focus for Ofsted, it is clear that EYFS providers need to create settings and install playground equipment that encourages and facilitates communication and language learning. Storytelling corners, alphabet and phonics markings and equipment that encourages role play and mark making are all very useful here.

 

Other areas of focus

This, however, is just the start of what Ofsted expects. The inspection framework goes on to add that it is the role of the EYFS provider to ‘help children experience the awe and wonder of the world in which they live, through the 7 areas of learning.’ As the focus here is clearly on providing children with ‘experiences,’ providers need to carefully consider the type of playground equipment they install to ensure that it offers awe and wonder. This can include creating nature spaces with bird feeders and bug houses, magnetic water walls, outdoor percussion instruments or thrilling climbing equipment.

To be successful in an Ofsted inspection, the EYFS provider’s curriculum must have a highly effective impact on what children know, can remember and do. The framework says that children can demonstrate this through being deeply engaged in their play and sustaining high levels of concentration. Indeed, to achieve outstanding, the children need to ‘have consistently positive attitudes to their play and learning,’ be highly motivated and very eager to join in, share and cooperate. Again, the quality of the play equipment is crucial to helping EYFS practitioners achieve this.

Installing playground equipment that boosts physical activity and skills is also something EYFS providers need to consider. EYFS practitioners should ‘provide a range of opportunities for physically active play’ and give clear and consistent messages to support healthy choices around exercise.

In establishments rated as good by Ofsted, observations will show that children are physically active in their play and develop motor, cardiovascular and physiological skills, including showing ‘good control and coordination in both large and small movements appropriate for their stage of development.’ Climbing frames, play towers, age-appropriate Trim Trails, traversing walls, sports and stepper markings are all helpful for developing physical health and movement skills and can provide the range of opportunities that Ofsted are looking for.

Climbing frames, play towers and Trim Trails are also useful in that they promote children’s confidence, resilience and independence. This is important, as another area of Ofsted assessment will look at how well EYFS providers ‘teach children to take appropriate risks and challenges as they play and learn both inside and outdoors, particularly supporting them to develop physical and emotional health.’ These types of playground apparatus address all these key areas.

 

Conclusion

Ofsted sees play as a vital part of learning. During inspections, they will consider how ‘leaders and practitioners create and plan the play environment’ and observe children at play when gathering evidence. To ensure a successful inspection, therefore, EYFS providers can benefit from installing equipment that engages, motivates and inspires children to learn across all seven areas of the curriculum.

For more information about our wide range of EYFS playground equipment, visit our Early Years page.

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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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