Why Great Design Matters for Small School Playgrounds

small school playground design

Everywhere you look these days, school playgrounds seem to be getting kitted out with the latest, must-have outdoor equipment. The one thing many of these modern playgrounds have in common is that they are of a decent size. For schools with smaller playgrounds, it can be hard to find the right solution when there is so little space available. However, with the right design team behind you, the possibilities are endless. Here we discuss why great design matters for small school playgrounds.

Dilemmas and challenges

Schools with small playgrounds are often faced with the dilemma that, by installing playground equipment, they make available space even smaller. It seems like there is a choice between giving children things to do and space to run around. A good playground, however, should aim to do both. The challenge is in finding a way to achieve this – and this is where having the help of a specialist school playground design team, like ESP Play, can be invaluable.

The importance of zones

No matter how big or small your outdoor space, the modern approach to designing playgrounds involves the creation of zones. This means creating discrete areas for different types of activities. Separating activities in this way is essential for making the playground safer, more inclusive and providing a wider range of play opportunities.

A smaller playground might not be able to have as many zones as a larger one, or, if it does, the zones might have less or smaller equipment. However, by using them, you can create areas for different activities, such as active play, creative play, sensory play and even quiet areas for sitting and chatting. A good designer will make sure that the layout of the playground is such that children taking part in one activity won’t be disrupted or put at risk by those taking part in another and that there is adequate access to and from each zone. In this way, no one is excluded from taking part and staff will have fewer issues to deal with as the design limits the potential for hazards.

Clever space-saving design

ESP Play’s experienced playground designers have created countless designs for small playgrounds up and down the country and understand not just the issues but the unseen opportunities that schools miss.

One frequently missed opportunity is not taking advantage of your school and playground walls. For playgrounds with limited space, these offer incredible potential, enabling the school to add a wide range of fun and educational equipment that doesn’t take up precious space elsewhere. What’s great is that even if you don’t currently have any walls, it’s relatively simple to install a fence that’s strong enough to serve the same purpose.  School walls can be used to install blackboards and whiteboards, traversing walls, magnetic water walls, ball targets and basketball hoops. They can also be used to create nature zones in your playground through the use of planters and trellises, together with wall-attached bug houses, bird feeders and butterfly houses. All these things, and more, can be put around the edges of your playground without taking up precious space in the centre.

Your choice of zones

When it comes to making use of the space, it’s up to you which zones to create and what features you might want them to have. For example, you could create a messy play area next to a wall that features a magnetic water wall as well as a small sandpit and a mud kitchen. The wall could also incorporate hangers on which you could keep aprons to keep the children dry and free of sand.

Small playgrounds don’t need to lack exciting climbing equipment either. Although you might be hard pushed to fit in a large climbing frame, smaller versions are available that can still offer plenty of fun-filled thrills for your pupils, whether that’s play towers for younger children or the Free Flow Expedition package. If you’re really stuck for space, you can choose individual pieces from our Trim Trails equipment, including jungle bars, wobbly bridges, balance beams, log stairs and many more.

There’s also a lot of equipment for imaginative play zones, where children can indulge in creative activities and role play. From mini-stages and shop kiosks to boats, carriages and trains, these pieces offer great fun without taking up too much space.

As for reserving a space for running around, that’s possible too – and can best be achieved with the addition of a few playground markings to provide the sports pitches and traditional playground games markings to inspire participation and keep the activities within designated areas.

Conclusion

As you can see, having a small school playground doesn’t mean your pupils can’t benefit from the great equipment you see being installed in other schools. However, it does mean you’ll need to be a little cleverer when it comes to getting the design right and that you choose the right pieces to match the space you have available.

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

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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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How to Make School Playgrounds Safer

Make School Playgrounds Safer

Kids will be kids and accidents happen - while there’s truth in these old sayings, it doesn’t mean a school can’t make a playground safer and minimise the risk of accident or injury. In this post, we look at a number of effective things schools can do to increase outdoor safety.

Reduce bullying by ending boredom

Bullying and the occasional fights that result because of it, is most likely to happen in the playground where supervision is limited and children are free to move around. According to a study commissioned by the Royal Bank of Scotland, there is a direct correlation between incidents of bullying and children having nothing to do during breaktimes. Upgrading a playground to provide greater opportunity for engaging play can have a dramatic impact. The Landscapes for Learning charity reported that schools that made improvements to outdoor facilities, like installing exciting, modern climbing frames, reduced bullying by almost 65% and saw vandalism fall by more than a quarter.

Manage space to minimise accidents

Poor use of space creates the potential for one playground activity to clash with another and cause unnecessary accidents. It's easy for a child chasing after a football, for example, to crash into someone playing with a skipping rope nearby. There are numerous other places where this can happen. The way to minimise the risk of accident and injury is to design the playground so that it has separate activity zones.

Placing physical activities involving climbing and running away from each other prevents those taking part from getting in each other’s way. Additionally, landscaping, fencing and pathways can be used to demarcate the zones and if needed, physically prevent children from getting from one zone to another unless via a safe, designated route that is out of harm’s way. You can even do this to keep older children away from younger ones. Stuck for what you can achieve with playground design? Visit our inspiration page.  

Playground essentials that prevent rulebreaking

While all schools and nurseries have playground rules designed to prevent people from getting hurt, sometimes the playground lacks facilities that encourage children to follow those rules. Steps, walls and windowsills, for example, are comfortable places to sit outdoors, so even if a school bans this on safety grounds, it is no surprise that some children will try to sit there, day after day, if there is nowhere else to go. And if there are no picnic tables or bins, children will eat where they can and leave litter that can be hazardous and attract vermin.

With adequate facilities installed, the children are less inclined to sit and eat where they shouldn’t or leave the place untidy. There is a wide range of playground seating available today, from simple benches and picnic tables to elaborate octagonal shelters, and it’s reasonably priced and long lasting too.

Safe playground surfacing

A lot of playground accidents occur because of issues with worn or unsuitable playground surfaces. Worn asphalt or tarmac can develop potholes or have loose stones that increase the risk of someone tripping up or falling; concrete flags used on many school pathways can easily suffer from treacherous black ice in winter, hard surfaces under climbing frames increase the potential for injury if someone falls; and grassy banks that look idyllic in the summer sunshine become slippery quagmires in the rain.

Thankfully, playground surfacing has advanced significantly in recent times and many of the risks associated with asphalt, tarmac and concrete can be eradicated. Resin-bound gravel is a superior, hard surface alternative as the resin reduces the potential for erosion or potholes. Meanwhile, block paving is less slippery in icy conditions, rubber mulch and wetpour provide cushioning to lessen the risk of injury from falling, and grass matting or artificial grass ensure green areas don’t become a hazardous mud bath.

Keep equipment in tip top condition

If you have playground equipment, keeping it in good condition and making sure it is in proper working order is essential to ensure that it is safe to play on. Outdoor play equipment naturally gets heavy use and, over time, will need some maintenance to keep it up to standard and to prolong its longevity.

To ensure your playground equipment complies with BS EN1176 and remains fit for purpose, you should check it regularly and have an annual playground inspection by a qualified RPII inspector. ESP Play provides an RPII playground inspection service.

Conclusion

Keeping children safe is the first priority for schools and this includes minimising the risk of bullying or injuries in the playground. Hopefully, from reading this article, you’ll have a better understanding of how this can be achieved.

For more information, visit our Products and Services page.

 

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How to Create a Stimulating EYFS Playground

Stimulating EYFS Playground

As EYFS children learn through play, the playground is just as valuable a learning environment as the classroom. This means that to facilitate good learning experiences, it is important to create a stimulating outdoor area where education and personal development can thrive. For inspiration, this post will examine some of the things EYFS providers can do to make their playgrounds more inspiring.

Providing the right resources

Just like in the classroom, making your playground a great place to learn means providing your pupils with the right resources for their needs. While fulfilling the requirements of the EYFS curriculum is a key part of this, so is taking into account the abilities and interests of your own pupils. When upgrading a playground, it is always helpful to seek the opinions of your children and their parents to see what kind of equipment they would like to have. Getting parents on board can also be very useful for helping with fundraising.

For EYFS children, the right resources could include a wide range of different things. Play towers, for example, are great for developing both physical skills through climbing and motivating children to participate in adventurous role play activities. Sensory development can be encouraged by the introduction of magnetic water walls, sand boxes, outdoor percussion instruments or wobbly mirrors. Messy play, whether with mud kitchens, sandpits or water tables, is great fun and motivates creative and tactile skills.

At such a young age, it is important to stimulate children’s imagination and inquisitiveness, and there is a lot of equipment to help them achieve this. Indeed, at ESP Play, we have curated our own collection of imaginary playground equipment that includes pieces such as play huts, hollow logs, shop kiosks, bridges, climb-on boats, sit-on trains and more.

An organised space that invites and challenges

An effective EYFS playground needs to be well organised, inviting and provide children with challenge.

Good organisation is important to ensure safety and to provide learning experiences that can move seamlessly in and out of the classroom. Achieving this comes down to great design, something we have years of experience of at ESP Play. We have a free playground design service and our design team are happy to work with you to create a well organised outdoor space featuring a range of activity zones that are perfectly suited to your needs.

To make an outdoor play space inviting, it has to appeal to its intended audience. Though EYFS children are naturally attracted to brightly coloured and quirky equipment, it is essential that what’s there is age-appropriate and suited to the interests of your children. It’s another reason to collaborate closely with the children and their parents so that what you install is sure to be a winner.

Challenge is important to help children make progress and something that Ofsted inspectors will be looking for when they visit. Challenge comes in many forms, whether it involves physical activity, like mastering an EYFS climbing wall or Trim Trails obstacle course, developing coordination and road safety while triking around a playground roadway, or sitting in the storytelling chair to tell their friends a story. All these pieces, and more, can help children overcome fears, develop new skills and achieve new heights.

Inspiring confidence and independence

One of the chief aims of EYFS is to prepare children for school and part of this is helping them to become more self-confident and independent so they can do things for themselves. Our Early Years Trim Trails are an excellent resource for this. Specially designed for youngsters, these obstacle courses provide challenges that, when met, increase confidence and inspire children to be more independent. What’s more, as some of the obstacles take time to overcome, children naturally develop resilience as they attempt to master them. The best thing of course is that with balance beams, jungle bars, wobbly bridges and rope traversing options, these courses are great fun to play on.

Healthy options

EYFS playgrounds also need to motivate children to take part in physical activity in order to develop strength, agility and coordination and to improve general health. Stimulation, in this case, involves providing resources that make children active.

Strength can be improved through installing climbing and swinging apparatus, for example, traversing walls and jungle bars. For developing agility and coordination, there are numerous game-based playground markings suitable for EYFS children that are ideal for the purpose. These include agility ladders, steppers, and twisty lines. There are also many playground markings that combine coordination activities with basic numeracy and literacy skills, such as phonic spots, number arches and alphabet targets.

For more cardiovascular activities, you can also provide equipment like hurdles markings and pitch/court markings for football, netball, rounders and various other sports.

Conclusion

A stimulating EYFS playground is one where young children are motivated to get outside and participate. Designed correctly, you can inspire children to do things that help them learn, personally develop and stay fit and healthy through having fun.

For more ideas of how to make your EYFS playground more stimulating, visit our products page.

 

 

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Flat on Inspiration? Why Landscaping is the New Playground Trend

school playground landscaping

Traditionally, playgrounds have always been flat. Indeed, natural undulations were often levelled out to make them flat. Today, however, research tells us that adding mounds, ramps and other raised features brings both educational and play benefits while improving the overall aesthetic of the playground. Here we look at why landscaping has become the new trend in playground design.

New dimensions, new challenges

Landscaped playgrounds are intrinsically more interesting for children to explore and bring a whole new dynamic to play and outdoor learning. Mounds, for example, are features that demand to be climbed and conquered, to roll down, to chase friends around, to stand on top of and view the landscape from a different perspective. In this sense, they are rich in play and development opportunities and provide valuable new challenges for children.

Adding a vertical dimension provides enhanced physical play that, through moving uphill and downhill and manoeuvring around landscaped contours, helps speed up the development of important gross motor skills and coordination, while improving overall strength and fitness.

Kinaestheic skills

Research has shown that the new activities which raised landscaping provides, such as climbing, jumping and rolling, helps with the development of kinaesthesia, the body's ability to sense action, movement and location. Often considered a sixth sense, it is these skills that allow people to move without thinking about the next step – we develop the ability to understand where our bodies are in relation to the things around us and know the next movement.

The ups and downs of problem-solving

As adults, we probably don’t think too much about negotiating a climb, but if you are a child, playground mounds, bridges, ramps and climbing equipment throw up a number of intriguing problems that need to be solved. How many ways can they get to the top and down again? Which are the best ways? How physically demanding will it be? Have they the strength to get up? What’s the safest way to go?

Of course, by giving it a go and playing on these features, they are able to answer those questions, solve those problems and transfer what they have learnt to help them tackle other challenges. At the same time, children are given new chances to assess, manage and take risks.

An island of opportunity

In a sea of busy play, the peak of a playground knoll can also become an island of retreat; one where older children, especially, like to enjoy the vantage point to chat with their friends and watch what others do in the playground.

Risen platforms can also become so much else, providing endless role play and other opportunities: a desert island for pirates and buried treasure, the home of a giant, a strange new planet, the back of a whale. What’s more, when you build bridges to them or put tunnels under them, there is even more potential for creative play.

Defining the space

Raised mounds also have practical uses that can help make the playground safer. They can be used to separate different play zones, particularly when you don’t want the activities in one zone to interfere with what’s going on in another. Even if the raised area is only low, it can stop children from spilling over, direct them to a safer route and prevent things like footballs from going astray. A gentle rise in level is also great for slowing down traffic in busy areas, reducing the risk of children colliding.

A more inviting environment

There is nothing inviting or inspiring about a flat playground surfaced with grey asphalt. Today, there is a wider range of surfacing types to choose from, including rubber mulch, wetpour, resin-bound gravel, block paving and artificial grass. And the spectrum of colours these come in enable schools and nurseries to create vibrant and exciting places to play and learn.

With landscaping, this can now be achieved in 3D, whether that’s the addition of an artificially grassed knoll or a brightly coloured, wetpour mound as part of the overall design.

Conclusion

Landscaping your school playground by introducing raised areas and equipment, enhances the entire topography. It brings new features that add to the aesthetic and make the space more fun to explore. This inspires children to participate in a wider range of play and develop new skills more quickly. Additionally, raised areas can be used to enhance safety and to create quiet zones where children can sit together with interesting views of what’s going on in the rest of the playground.

If you are considering redesigning your school playground, why not take advantage of ESP Play’s free playground design service?

 

 

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