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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Coronavirus and Outdoor Play – Advice for Schools and Nurseries

Coronavirus will be high on every school and nursery agenda at the moment and staff, parents and even children will have concerns about its spread. As providers of playground equipment, we have a specific interest in how Coronavirus can be spread in the playground and have been researching government, NHS and scientific guidance for schools and nurseries. Here is a summary of the most important information we have found.

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Outdoor play is beneficial

Although outdoor play cannot stop you getting Coronavirus, the opportunity to participate in exercise and to increase Vitamin D levels through exposure to sunlight can improve your body’s ability to fight the virus, making it less likely that an infection will become serious. According to Prof Arne Akbar of University College London and president of the British Society for Immunology, exercise increases blood flow and this mobilises white blood cells, enabling them to better ‘seek and destroy’ viruses in the body. Exercise also helps reduce stress, which is another way to boost the immune system - as is increasing our Vitamin D levels which are naturally lower during the winter when there is less sunlight and we don’t go outside as often.

In addition, playing in outdoor spaces gets pupils away from the more densely occupied and heavily trafficked areas of the school or nursery where there is more chance of someone getting infected. Indeed, reducing the length of time children are in these areas decreases the potential for surfaces to get contaminated. Overall, ensuring children can still play outside and take part in physical activities can be a positive step in safeguarding against Coronavirus.

Advice when playing outdoors

According to the UK government, there is currently no reason to stop doing outdoor play and sports as you normally would. However, hand hygiene should be strongly promoted and pupils should wash their hands (or use hand sanitiser) when entering and leaving the school or nursery. This can reduce the potential for outdoor equipment and surfaces getting contaminated and help prevent the virus being brought from the playground back into the building.

Besides hands, it is also important to ensure surfaces remain clean. This includes outdoor play equipment, outdoor classroom resources, playground toys, sports equipment, tables, seats, shelters handrails and door or gate furniture.

Advice from the World Health Organization tells us that Coronavirus can live on surfaces for up to several days. However, this depends on several factors, such as the type of surface, exposure to sunlight, temperature and humidity. In most instances, the amount of coronavirus on a contaminated surface will have decreased substantially after 24 hours and potentially even more on outdoor surfaces.

Dr Jenny Harries, England's Deputy Chief Medical Officer, said that Coronavirus will not survive very long outside and that many outdoor events are safe. Although the government’s planned specific advice on cleaning equipment has not yet been published, all outdoor equipment should be thoroughly cleaned and disinfected after use, especially objects that are frequently touched by hands.

The government has, however, released information about keeping educational establishments clean in circumstances where staff suspect that there may be a case of Coronavirus – i.e. is someone is showing symptoms. In these situations, the school or nursery must follow ‘current workplace legislation and recommended practice’, cleaning all the surfaces that the individual has come into contact with, using disposable cloths and household detergents. Things needing to be cleaned include any surfaces or objects that are ‘visibly contaminated with bodily fluids’ and any potentially contaminated high-contact areas or items.

However, if a person suspected of having the virus only passes through an area or has spent limited time there, and there are no surfaces visibly contaminated with body fluids, deep cleaning and disinfecting are not (at the time of publication) currently required.

Conclusion

Unless government advice changes, outdoor play, learning and sports should continue to take place in schools and nurseries; indeed there may be benefits to the immune system from doing so. When outdoors, it is advised that pupils should wash or sanitise their hands on exit and return to the main building and that regular cleaning and disinfecting of playground equipment should take place, especially surfaces that come into contact with hands or bodily fluids.

Please note that Coronavirus is a new virus and that guidance and advice may be subject to change as more is learnt about it. For more information read the Gov.uk page Guidance to educational settings about COVID-19.

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How to Keep Pupils Safe in the Playground During Winter

The risk of injury in the schoolyard increases dramatically during the winter months when snow, ice and frost create hazardous conditions. Winter weather can make playground surfaces and outdoor play equipment very slippery and cause damage which needs to be quickly repaired. At the same time, children need to learn to behave and dress appropriately for the weather conditions they encounter. In this post, we’ll look at some of the ways to improve safety in the winter playground.

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Watch out for slippery surfaces

Almost all playground surfaces are at risk from ice in one way or another. This even includes some loose-fill surfaces, like wood mulch and loose gravel which can create hard, solid surfaces when insufficient drainage causes them to freeze over. A more effective and long-term solution would be to use rubber mulch which cannot freeze. However, effective drainage is essential for all surfaces to reduce the potential for freezing, so if water isn’t draining away adequately, you may need a more detailed inspection to discover the cause so that it can be rectified.

Ice isn’t just caused by freezing water, it can also be caused by compacted snow. In the playground, this can be particularly hazardous as the more children walk on snow, the icier and more slippery it becomes – especially when the more dare-devil children start turning it into a slide. The best remedy to stop snow being turned into ice is to be proactive and grit the surfaces whenever snow is forecast. This will prevent snow from settling so it cannot be compacted. However, if ice has formed, the safest solution is to stop the surface being used until the ice has melted away. Equipment should also be tested for ice, especially climbing equipment which may need to be taken out of use in icy conditions.

One final thing you should remember is that when water turns to ice, it expands. When this happens between two surfaces, the force the expansion exerts can cause damage or erosion. The tiny gaps in asphalt and tarmac surfaces are particularly vulnerable to this form of erosion and this is why you might see potholes and loose patches of gravel after the thaw. Not only will these become worse with heavy use; they are also potential trip hazards and should be repaired quickly in order to reduce risk and cost. Newer forms of hard surfaces, like resin bound gravel, use resin as protection against freeze-thaw erosion and are therefore safer and more weather-resistant.

Get rid of snow

Although snow feels soft, it should never be considered as an adequate surface to leave under elevated play equipment like climbing frames as its slipperiness increases the risk of injury to those who land on it. Similarly, pupils are more likely to bump into equipment with snow around it or fall off structures that have snow on them. If feasible, snow should be brushed off all equipment and shovelled away from the playground surface underneath. Even once this has happened, the equipment should still be inspected to ensure it is safe enough to use, as residual water can still be a slip hazard. Remember to check things like the ladder rungs, handrails, hanging bars, balance beams, platforms, slides, stepping beams and landing areas. This is particularly important on balancing and climbing equipment where there are no additional handrails.

Managing the children

Pupils can be a hazard to themselves in wintery conditions and it is important that adequate supervision is on-hand at all times, especially around busy areas and elevated apparatus. While snowballing is permitted in some schools, this should never be the case if snow has frozen and become dangerously hard and never near windows (broken glass is almost impossible to find in snow) or near those playing on climbing equipment. Pupils should also be discouraged from running on snow as it not only increases the risk of falling, there are also more chances for collisions to occur.

While pupils should be suitably attired for outdoor play during the poor winter weather, some items of clothing can increase the risk of injury when children are playing on certain types of equipment. Gloves, for example, prevent children from safely gripping jungle bars or traversing walls, while dangling scarves and drawstrings can get caught up in some apparatus.

Finally, to prevent hazards being taken from the playground to the school building, ensure there are mats at the entrances for children to wipe their feet. Wet corridors and staircases can also be very slippery.

Conclusion

As you can see, winter weather can present a number of potential hazards to children in the playground. Hopefully, the suggestions made here will help you ensure your pupils stay safe.

If you are looking for safer surfaces for your outdoor play areas, check out our playground surfacing page.

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How Schools Can Help Tackle Mental Health

A recent poll by the National Association of Head Teachers (NAHT) has shown that twice as many schools in England, 66%, are having to commission professional support and in-school counselling compared to 2016. Despite mental health being a high priority for the UK government, schools face growing numbers of pupils with mental health issues while support services are increasingly hard to procure. In this post, we’ll look at ways that schools can help tackle mental health in-house.

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A whole-school approach

One of the first ways a school can move forward is to develop a school-wide approach to positive mental health. This includes the mental health of all the community: pupils, staff and parents. Mental wellbeing needs to be embedded not just in the curriculum, but in the entire life of the school, including in classroom practice, rewards and sanctions, play/free-time management and in enabling a work-life balance for all. At the same time, schools should try to encourage behaviours and attitudes that improve wellbeing.

Designated mental health coordinator

Creating a designated role for mental health gives the issue the important status it needs at management level and means that a whole-school approach can be better coordinated. The person in charge will have the authority to implement best practice and procedure as well as to monitor progress and evaluate impact. It also means systems can be centralised, reducing the chance of invisible cases.

A designated coordinator can also be the face of mental wellbeing within the school, being the first point of call, while also supporting staff, parents and pupils. They can also be the representative of the school when liaising with support services or colleagues from other schools.

Mental health training

67% of schools now undertake mental health training for their staff and this is vital to increase awareness of the various types of disorder that pupils may be affected by. It helps teachers to identify signs of mental illness so that those with potential disorders are given speedier help, and it enables teachers to improve classroom practice so that general wellbeing is enhanced and that those with disorders can cope better during the school day.

Training, of course, can be implemented in several ways. Schools can invite professionals in to address the entire staff or individual teachers can attend courses out of school and then feedback to the rest of the staff at a later date. Local clusters may also have support groups who deliver training in your area.

One key area of training is how to deal with a child who is having a mental health crisis. The NAHT survey reported that only 44% of headteachers felt confident their school could deal with such a situation.

Enabling openness

The first step to getting help is telling someone about your mental wellbeing. In schools, there are three hurdles which need addressing to enable this to happen. First of all, children need the language skills to enable them to talk about their problems. They need to know how to express their feelings so that they can tell their friends or their teachers what is happening to them. If a child lacks the ability to articulate how they feel, they may be unable to seek help.

Secondly, schools need to do everything they can to remove the stigma of mental health. This might not be such a major issue for younger children, but as they get older and more self-conscious, fear of other people finding out can make issues worse and prevent help being sought. This is equally true of staff who may also fear that their jobs are at risk if they come forward.

Finally, people need someone to tell. Although the mental health coordinator is perhaps the first port of call for serious concerns, all members of the community should be encouraged to support others, whether it is a friend, a pupil or a colleague.

Fun, outdoor exercise

The school playground can play an important role in improving mental wellbeing. Simply getting outside into the fresh air and away from the classroom is a natural mood-lifter in itself. However, if free time is made fun, it can help with issues of anxiety and depression and counteract the stress which classwork puts children under. That, of course, means equipping your playground with apparatus that will engage pupils in fun activities, whether that’s playing football, roleplay, making mud pies or digging up a sandpit .

Even more beneficial for mental wellbeing is when children are provided with opportunities to engage in physical activity. Sports markings, climbing frames, outdoor gyms, etc. all help children to take part in moderate or strenuous activities which have been proven to help prevent serious mental health issues developing and which make it easier for those with existing conditions to cope.

Conclusion

With 12.8% of pupils suffering from a mental health condition and a lack of external help, all schools are under increasing pressure to cope. Hopefully, the ideas mentioned in this post will help your school improve provision for your pupils.

If you are looking to make breaktimes more fun and to encourage more children to participate in physical activity, check out our wide range of playground equipment.

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