4 Ways to Tell if Your Playground Needs an Upgrade

All school playgrounds eventually need an upgrade. Years of heavy use and constant exposure to weathering means playground surfacing and equipment will, at some point, need replacing. At the same time, the priorities of schools change with new initiatives requiring outdoor spaces to be redeveloped to suit modern curricula and teaching methods. So, is your playground in need of an upgrade? In this post, we’ll discuss some of the things that will help you answer that question.

literacy and phonics

1. Your playground has safety issues

If you have play equipment already installed in your outdoor spaces, you’ll be aware of the need to carry out regular inspections to ensure that everything is safe for your pupils. With daily visual inspections, monthly operational inspections and annual inspections from an independent RPII qualified inspector, schools should have a clear idea of whether existing equipment and surfaces are in good working order and present no risk to their students. If there are issues, however, then they need addressing quickly in order to prevent the potential of pupils coming to harm.

When it comes to health and safety, it is always better to be proactive than reactive. Rather than waiting for a piece of equipment to fail an inspection before replacing it, it is safer to upgrade it when it is getting towards the end of its lifecycle but is still safe to play on. Things to look out for are rusting or fatigued metalwork, broken or cracked plastics, loose fittings, worn, slippery or poor-draining surfaces and decaying timber.

2. Your outdoor equipment is tired and unappealing

Today’s classrooms and corridors are vibrant places designed to create stimulating and engaging learning environments. Children also need to be stimulated and engaged in the playground but this can be hard to achieve when the surfaces and equipment begin to look tired and lose their appeal. When playground markings wear away, sports fields become bare soil and once brightly coloured equipment is now ugly grey steel with odd patches of chipped, sun-bleached paint, such dilapidated outdoor spaces stand in stark contrast to the indoor environment and do little to motivate pupils to play or learn outside. If a playground looks past its best and too few children are making use of it, then it’s time for an upgrade.

3. Health and wellbeing not catered for

Today, improving health and wellbeing is often a primary reason for the decision to upgrade a playground. With 20% of year 6 pupils in 2018-2019 being obese and 12.8% of school-aged pupils suffering from a mental disorder, the UK has some serious health issues to tackle when it comes to young people. While physical exercise alone is not a panacea, it offers many benefits for both physical and mental wellbeing. Regular physical activity can help reduce obesity, prevent the onset of some mental disorders and assist those living with existing disorders to cope better.

Unfortunately, modern lifestyles mean few children get the hour of physical exercise that medical experts say they need every day to stay healthy. Often, the school playground is the only place where such an opportunity exists; though whether they take advantage of it depends to a great extent on the type of playground equipment available to them. Different pupils have different interests and to get them more active you need a range of equipment that will motivate even the most reluctant pupils.

4. No opportunity for outdoor learning

For young children at the beginning of their educational journey, outdoor play is a critical part of the learning process. For this reason, many EYFS providers strive to create playgrounds that offer a seamless transition between the indoor and outdoor areas, enabling learning to flow from one to the other without interruption. Indeed, playground designs that offer the opportunity to combine fun with the pursuit of learning are now highly popular.

The educational benefits of being outdoors, however, have not gone unnoticed by the teachers of older students and, today, outdoor classrooms are much sought after by both primary and secondary schools. While PE has always taken advantage of the school’s outdoor areas, modern playgrounds can now install subject specific equipment that is purposely designed to cover virtually every curriculum area.

Another sign that your school needs a playground upgrade is that it doesn’t provide suitable opportunities for learning. With so much equipment available and indoor space at a premium, it is an opportunity not to be missed, especially as pupils really enjoy learning outdoors.

Conclusion

When deciding if your school playground needs an upgrade, there are four basic questions you may wish to ask. Is your current playground safe for pupils? Does it provide a stimulating environment with fun equipment? Do the playground facilities offer opportunities to improve pupils’ health and wellbeing? Is your outdoor space adequately equipped as a place for learning? If the answer to any of these is no, then it may be time to consider an upgrade.

If you’re looking for inspiration, take a look at our wide range of outdoor play and learning equipment.

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5 Tips to Get Your School Playground Ready for Spring

Now we’re into the new year, it will only be a short time before the onset of spring. As this means your school’s outdoor spaces are going to get much more use than over the winter, it is a good time to prepare your play areas for the forthcoming season. In this post, we’ll give you some tips not just on getting the playground ready but also on sprucing it up.

literacy and phonics

1. Inspect your playground

Although your playground and outdoor play equipment might not see much use during the winter months, they may take a bit of a battering from the bad weather. Heavy rain, strong winds, freezing temperatures and ice can all cause damage to surfaces, equipment, walls and fences. To make sure that everything is in a safe and working order, a detailed operational inspection is required. These can be carried out by school staff or by a qualified operational inspector.

The results of such an inspection will help determine whether any necessary repairs, replacements or maintenance needs to be done to ensure the space is fit for use.

2. Carry out regular maintenance tasks

All school grounds need some maintenance work following the winter period. This could include trimming hedges, reseeding grassed areas, annual timber treatments, repainting chipped surfaces and tightening loose fixtures. Getting these done as early as possible helps to extend the longevity of your equipment, keeps them in good working order and makes the playground more appealing to play in.

3. Protect grassed areas

Grassed areas are very popular with children, they are great for sitting on during warm days and are ideal for playing a wide range of sports and games. However, as spring tends to be one of the wettest seasons, they can become very muddy, making them unfit for use and potentially a safety hazard.

There are two solutions for this. The first is to protect existing lawns with grass matting, a protective rubber mesh that enables grass to grow but prevents it from being eroded or becoming too muddy. This simple but effective solution makes grassed areas usable throughout the year. Alternatively, you can replace existing grassed areas or even create new ones using artificial grass. This creates a softer, multi-use surface that can be used in all weathers and which needs little maintenance.

4. Add some spring colour

Everyone loves spring but it’s hard to enjoy it at school when the environment lacks a touch of nature itself. This is easy to remedy. If you have green spaces, use them to plant spring favourites like croci, snowdrops, daffodils, bluebells and tulips. If you don’t have an existing green space, you can always buy a few planters and trellises that will bring a much-welcomed touch of greenery and colour to your schoolyard. If you want to encourage wildlife as much as plant life, you should also consider installing bird feeders or a bug house.

5. Equipment for the spring curriculum

Spring often plays a part in the academic curriculum with children learning about how plants grow, how the weather changes and even writing poetry or creating art about the rebirth of nature. If such topics are part of your curriculum calendar, then there are some useful pieces of outdoor equipment you may want to have installed once spring arrives.

The Switch Weather Station is an ideal way for children to carry out studies of the local weather. With a built-in barometer, hydrometer, thermometer and water gauge, as well as ways to record cloud cover and wind strength, it lets pupils examine a wide range of weather features in a hands-on way.

Another great resource is the Discovery Planter which allows children to examine and measure how plants grow in various conditions including letting them see what’s happening beneath the soil. This works perfectly with the investigation table where children can analyse and measure what they find in an area of the ground.

Finally, as spring is often the time when children are asked to plant a seed and measure how it grows, the Growing Tree has been specially designed as somewhere outside where you can house all those plant pots. Indeed, if you are looking at growing a variety of plants, including vegetables and the ever-popular sunflower, there are a variety of growing boxes and digging pits you can also use.

Conclusion

The onset of spring will see your playground and outdoor spaces coming back into full use, not only as somewhere to play but as a place for learning. To make sure they are ready, it is a good idea to start planning now. Hopefully, the tips provided here will make sure your outdoor areas are safe, well maintained, pleasant to be in and fully equipped for all the things you want to use them for.

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How to Improve Social Interaction in the Playground

Finding ways to help children interact more leads to numerous benefits for both the individual child and the school community as a whole. This can be challenging to do in a classroom setting when the time is structured around the curriculum and much of the social interaction is manufactured to meet the aims of the lesson. Truer interactions take place when the children have the freedom to be themselves and, in schools, this most often happens at break times. Here, we’ll look at a number of outdoor activities that can enhance social interaction and help develop social skills.

social interaction

Team sports

Team sports give children lots of opportunities to interact with each other. These include picking the teams, deciding on the positions and choosing which side is the first to start. Each of these activities requires children to negotiate, take on roles and accept the choices of the wider group. When the game starts, interaction continues through the discussion of in-match tactics as well as by giving encouragement to teammates and in the celebration of goals.

One of the important features of team sports is that there are a set of rules which need to be followed. Children taking part quickly become aware of what is not allowed and what constitutes a foul. As these rules are needed for the game to progress smoothly, children develop a social awareness of the need to abide by them.

Sports can also help children with conflict resolution. Minor disputes can arise during a game – was the player really off-side? Who is going to take the penalty? Learning these skills in game situations when there are a fixed set of rules can improve a child’s ability to handle conflict in settings where right and wrong are much more open to question.

Team sports can be exceptionally beneficial for social interaction in the playground and the introduction of a MUGA, that provides a wider range of sports, can be one of the best ways to inspire more pupils to take part.

Roleplay

Young children love role play and when provided with the right equipment, it comes naturally to them. It also plays a pivotal role in child development, helping to bring on many of the skills needed to be proficient at social interaction, such as confidence, communication and problem-solving.

By taking on the role of another person, be that a made-up character, someone from fiction or even someone they know, children act out scenarios that are a practice for the real world and which help them to understand and navigate society better. These made-up situations help them develop important social skills, too: listening, responding, turn-taking, initiating conversation, asking questions. In addition, they become more socially aware, developing empathy, understanding when they’ve upset someone and learning how to resolve problems.

There are many ways to motivate pupils to participate in roleplay. A good way to start is to provide them with plenty of props and costumes. There are, however, some excellent pieces of playground equipment that create the settings that unleash their creativity to a greater extent and transport them to imaginary worlds. From shop kiosks to wigwams, steam trains to castle-themed climbing towers, there is a lot of imaginative play equipment to choose from.

Outdoor games

Outdoor games help smaller groups of children develop interpersonal skills, foster better relationships and build friendships. All of these can have an impact both in school and in the community as a whole. The simple act of playing together, whether in a pair or friendship group, improves personal communication and forges bonds between people as they take part in fun activities.

The range of outdoor games available for school playgrounds is wider than ever. Besides the traditional playground markings for games like hopscotch, there are also outdoor versions of popular table games like chess, Ludo, snakes and ladders and Connect 4. You can even get outdoor table football, table tennis and puzzle tables.

Performing

Performing provides many of the same opportunities for social interaction as both team sports and roleplay. Those taking part in a made-up drama will develop skills in improvisation and communication. And as social interaction is the basis for most drama, the opportunity to progress in this area is obvious. Providing an outdoor stage in the playground is the simplest way to get children to start improvising and performing in front of their peers is a fantastic confidence booster.

That same stage can also be used to create dance routines, an activity that relies on social interaction in order to decide the moves and work together as a unified team. Similar skills can be learned from working together as a music ensemble, using outdoor percussion instruments, to create beats and rhythms and perform them in time for their peers.

Summing Up

Social interaction is an essential skill, helping children to be confident enough to communicate with others and do so in a way that helps them achieve and which enables the school community to get along more harmoniously. Hopefully, the ideas and equipment mentioned here will help you extend the opportunities for social interaction at your school.

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How Does a School Business Manager Add Value to Pupils’ Education?

In the thirty years since the introduction of Grant Maintained Status, school management has changed dramatically. Today, with the rise of academies, much of a school’s administration falls under the leadership of the school business manager.

Far more than a bursar, the business manager is usually a member of the senior leadership team and carries out a wide range of duties. Their responsibilities often include school finance, income generation, publicity and marketing, building management, HR and health and safety.

With most senior teachers having limited management experience in these areas, it makes sense to delegate responsibilities to someone with the necessary skills so that the teaching staff can focus on educational areas: teaching and learning, curriculum, progress and attainment, etc.

However, school business management and school education management should not be conceived as being separate. As I mentioned in my recent YouTube video, The Importance of School Business Mangers, “the key objective of any school is about maximising the attainment of every child and to create as many positive experiences that they will remember,” and the business manager has a big role to play in making that happen.

Here are some of the important ways a school business manager can add value to pupils’ education.

1. Making the school improvement plan financially feasible

The purpose of any school improvement plan is to raise the attainment and achievement of pupils but putting these plans into action does have an impact on the school budget. You may need to recruit additional staff, reallocate existing staff, procure new resources or buy in third-party expertise.

A good business manager will assist here by providing robust financial management to the improvement planning process. They will help make significant savings and identify alternative funds to ensure that the school’s objects are financially viable.

2. Saving money through best value

Business managers are experts when it comes to getting the best value. They have the experience, for example, to negotiate the best contracts with the external services the school needs. This can include supply agencies, catering companies, classroom resource providers, coach hire companies and school window cleaners. The results here not only mean savings that the school can reallocate to improving teaching and learning but more efficient and better-quality services, too.

It’s not just in the procurement of resources that a business manager can improve efficiencies. They also ensure that the school makes the most effective use of its resources. Moving training days from winter to summer can save hundreds of pounds on heating and lighting bills, better management of staff absence can reduce the number of sick days and save thousands, as can moving the school’s IT server to a third-party cloud hosting company.

3. Taking responsibility for non-teaching staff

Many school business managers become the senior line manager for non-teaching staff within a school and this can have an enormous impact. One of the first big gains is that a senior teacher no longer has to fulfil this role and, thus, they’ll have more time to concentrate on school development.

More than this, however, is the way that business managers can restructure the working arrangements of the non-teaching staff so the school functions more effectively. Introducing new protocols for admin staff can help reduce the admin workload for teachers and give them more time to focus on the classroom. They can also manage the performance of non-teaching staff and ensure that effective training is put in place to enable the school to perform even better.

This can mean classrooms are cleaner, playgrounds are better supervised, teaching assistants are better allocated, photocopying is done quicker, resources are easier to find and consumables are always in stock. All of which can have a valuable impact.

4. Finding additional funding

School business managers are adept at bidding for external funding. They have the experience and skills to ensure that bids for funds are completed accurately and meet the criteria which are needed. For many schools, the amount of additional funding found by a business manager covers their salary many times over. These types of bid enable schools to undertake big capital projects which otherwise would be impossible.

Thanks to business managers, schools up and down the country have new roofs, new outdoor sporting equipment, modern IT suites, minibuses, better disabled access and extra teachers. Some funds will even cover the cost of building of new classrooms or sports halls. Of course, better facilities and resources have a positive impact on learning and help improve attainment.  

Besides submitting bids, business managers are also very good at earning extra funds from the school premises – such as letting out the rooms for adult evening classes or charging local sports teams to use the school playing fields. They can also get local businesses to sponsor school teams or events. Although these are not new ideas, many schools did not benefit from them in the past simply because staff were too focused on other things or lacked the know-how. Business managers don’t waste opportunities like these.

5. Enrichment

Education is not just about attainment. It’s also about enriching children’s lives. Here, the business manager has a role to play as well. Whilst the cost of many small enrichment activities, such as school trips, are usually helped by parental contributions, some of the bigger projects are often shelved because of lack of funds.

At ESP Play, for example, we hear from many schools who are keen to develop their school playgrounds and outdoor areas. The facilities they want will enrich the lives of students in many ways: improved physical and mental health, encouraging independence, boosting social skills, developing creativity and even enabling the creation of an outdoor classroom.

The school business manager is the key person in a school to help bring these enrichment plans to fruition. Through shrewd management, finding additional funding or careful budgeting, they are the ones that have the skills to make enrichment a reality.

6. Freeing up the Head

As the leader of the school, it’s the headteacher who drives it forward. It’s their vision and passion that motivates and inspires staff and pupils to greater achievements. With this in mind, it’s worth noting that, according to the government whitepaper, The Importance of Teaching, a school business manager can free up a third of a headteacher’s time. How valuable is that in enabling a school to improve children’s education?

Conclusion

So, how does a school business manager add value to pupils’ education? The simple answer is that they do it in many ways. They bring in much needed funds, they make sure that existing finances are used effectively, they improve the way that resources are procured and used, and they make people work smarter and in more efficient ways. Through this, they ensure that funding and resources have the biggest possible impact on children’s learning and improve their overall experience of school.

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The History of Playgrounds – Past, Present and Future.

Playgrounds are places designed for children to enjoy themselves in a carefree environment. A modern day playground is brimming with a wide range play equipment such as swings, slides, trim trails, play towers, sand boxes, jungle bars, playground markings and much more. Playgrounds help with the development of physical strength, fitness, co-ordination and flexibility; whilst providing a great place for interaction and enjoyment.

 

The introduction of playgrounds.

The idea of the playground originated in Germany and was invented as a platform for teaching children correct ways to play. The first purpose built children’s playground was built in 1859 in a park in Manchester, England. Although they had appeared before this period, playgrounds were properly introduced to the United States by President Roosevelt in 1907, of which he said:

“City streets are unsatisfactory playgrounds for children because of the danger, because most good games are against the law, because they are too hot in summer, and because in crowded sections of the city they are apt to be schools of crime. Neither do small back yards nor ornamental grass plots meet the needs of any but the very small children. Older children who would play vigorous games must have places especially set aside for them; and, since play is a fundamental need, playgrounds should be provided for every child as much as schools. This means that they must be distributed over the cities in such a way as to be within walking distance of every boy and girl, as most children can not afford to pay carfare.”

Playground Trends

London first witnessed the introduction of ’junk playgrounds’ in the period following World War II,  via the landscape architect and children’s rights campaigner Lady Allen of Hurtwood. She changed the name to ‘Adventure Playground’ in 1953; creating the National Playing Fields Association (now Fields in Trust), which saw the coordination of adventure playground projects throughout the country. These playgrounds were constructed from recycled ‘junk’ which the NPFA provided in order for children to design and create playgrounds in spaces such as bomb sites, building sites and wasteland.

Since then, playgrounds have seen many design trends and playground design can now be seen as a form of artistic architecture. A good design is considered: challenging but safe, aesthetically pleasing, cost effective and innovative. Materials that have been used and continue to be used include: wood, HDPE plastic, steel, aluminium, rope, rubber, artificial grass and many more. Most modern playground incorporate all these materials. Wood is currently very trendy due to its natural and decorative properties. It is common to see climbing frames, trim trails and swing posts using wood as a main material.

Laws of the modern playground

The 1980′s saw many laws and legislations come into play (no pun intended!) in order to avoid injuries to children. This area requires a blog of its own but a couple of important points include:

  • No sharp points or edges
  • Gaps must measure less than 3.5 inch or more than 9 inch.
  • Equipment more than 30inches high must be at least 9 foot appart.

These laws have helped prevent danger in playgrounds but designers are met with the challenge of making playgrounds equally fun whilst still being safe and legal. Good playground design requires concentration on both points in equal measures.

 

Playgrounds in Schools

School playgrounds incorporate playground equipment, playground markings and curriculum based items to provide children with an exciting learning zone.  ESP are experts in this area and are constantly researching, innovating and providing schools with products that incorporate the curriculum into the playground. Our multi-skills thermoplastic markings are a perfect example of building fundamental movement skills amongst children; meanwhile our science, maths and performance products use playground equipment to fuse activity and education into the outdoor play area.

In recent years there has a considerable increase in interest for the health and fitness of children; consequently schools have focussed more attention to the outdoor areas. This has resulted in more adventurous playgrounds becoming more common and it is not rare to see a school playground featuring far more than just a hopscotch and a netball court. Modern sports are encouraged in equal measures and our ‘Free:D’ Parkour for Schools range has proven very popular throughout the country.

The future of playgrounds?

Who knows what the future holds for playgrounds. In the UK, the ‘Olympic Legacy’ was supposed to increase sporting activity in schools, but the success rate only provided disappointment. Competitive sports have long been encouraged throughout the sporting curriculum. Maybe now is the time to let the children play and choose there own physical activities. We are strong believers that multi-skills playgrounds encourage skills that can be applied to every sporting activity; competitive or otherwise. Hopefully playgrounds of the future will offer more choice to children and more schools will encourage their children with more than just competitive sports. We offer the best of both worlds, join in with the fun!

 

By Matt Heap
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