What makes a good school playground?

What makes a good school playground?

The footprint of a school playground is frequently larger than that of the school itself. Only recently, however, have schools begun to realise the enormous potential that these incredible spaces have to offer. From our experience of designing and installing playgrounds across the country, here are what we consider to be the things that make a good school playground in the 2020s.

Safety

Child safety is an essential ingredient of a good school playground and should always be the primary concern when upgrading. Best practice begins with your choice of playground contractor. Always choose a playground specialsit with lots of experience working with schools and which provides not just high-quality products and first-class installation, but also offers regular inspections and maintenance to keep the playground safe.

Other important considerations include dividing the playground into areas for children of different ages, for example, giving nursery pupils their own space away from the bigger children in Key Stages 1 and 2. The installation of modern playground surfaces, such as rubber mulch and wet pour surfacing, is also important because it reduces the chance of injury, especially when used around climbing apparatus. Finally, consider the use of activity zones, which prevent one form of activity interfering with another and potentially causing harm.

Accessibility and inclusivity

Every child should be able to access and benefit from a school’s outdoor space and it’s important to consider this at the outset of the design phase. Appropriate surfacing needs to be installed with pathways wide enough for wheelchairs and assisted movement.

Where possible, apparatus should allow disabled access or be adapted to assist with this, for example, providing ramps and rails that let those with disabilities play with their friends on the equipment. Even simple things, like picnic tables that are designed for wheelchairs to fit under, can make a great deal of difference.

Finally, you need to consider a range of play equipment that meets the needs of all and appeals to everyone’s interests. This is where zoning comes into its own, as it enables you to have discrete zones for things like sports, climbing, creativity, roleplay, sensory play and messy play (mud, sand and water), as well as quiet, nature zones.

A good school playground can be used all year round

While you cannot control the seasons or the weather, there are quite a few things you can do to make your outdoor spaces usable throughout the year. The use of slip-resistant and self-draining playground surfacing can make your outdoor area safe and usable in wet and cold weather, while artificial grass can be used all year round and grass matting prevents natural lawns becoming a slippery quagmire.

The installation of trellises and the planting of shrubs not only adds a touch of greenery but if put in the right places, can provide shelter from biting winds. Octagonal shelters, with built-in seating, can accommodate a classful of pupils in wet, windy and overly sunny conditions. Verandas and sun sails can do the same.

A place for learning and fun

While play is an essential part of the learning process for children, a good school playground is also a place to deliver much more of the curriculum. While MUGA, gym, pitch markings, multi-skills zone and sports equipment are some of the many PE options, today, there are outdoor resources for many subject areas. Schools can install storytelling circles, science investigation tables, weather measuring centres, plant growing equipment, outdoor musical instruments, playground stages and much more. There is subject-specific equipment, purpose-built for outdoor use, for maths, English, science, art, music, design and technology, geography, history and languages.

Creating an outdoor classroom means less demand for internal space and provides teachers and pupils with a completely different learning environment, one where there is the space to take part in active learning and the freedom to explore the world around them.

A playground for health and wellbeing

Children’s physical and mental wellbeing is a key issue at the moment: 12.5 per cent of UK pupils aged 5 to 18 suffer from a mental disorder and instances of childhood obesity continue to rise. While physical activity has been shown to have a positive effect on both mental and physical health, modern lifestyles mean children have little opportunity to get the recommended hour a day that health professionals say they need.

By choosing the right type of playground equipment, schools not only facilitate physical activity; they encourage pupils to increase participation. This makes pupils more active in the short term and helps them develop healthier lifestyles over the long term. What’s more, it can help those with mental disorders like depression and anxiety cope better with their illnesses while potentially preventing others from developing disorders at all.

When planning a school playground, its impact on the physical and mental wellbeing of pupils should be taken into consideration. Sports, climbing and obstacle course activities are not only great fun, they require lots of physical exertion. At the same time, quiet nature areas are ideal for those who need some respite during the school day.

Conclusion

As you can see from this post, playgrounds can become highly valuable resources for schools, enabling pupils to have fun, socialise, learn and improve their health and wellbeing. Hopefully, the ideas mentioned here will inspire you to create the perfect outdoor space for your pupils.

For more ideas, visit our products page.

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School Playground Covid-19 Guidance for New Academic Year

Covid-19 guidance for playgrounds

The Covid-19 pandemic means significant changes for schools and nurseries reopening in September. Not only will this affect what goes on in the building but it will also impact the use of the playground, particularly where shared playground equipment, like climbing frames, play towers and sand pits are installed. Here, we’ll look at the latest government advice on what schools should be doing to keep their playgrounds safe in the new academic year.

The government’s guidance is for the governing bodies of schools and academy trusts that provide playgrounds with shared play equipment or outdoor gyms. While schools have to comply with existing health and safety legislation, the new guidance is non-statutory. This is because each school will have different circumstances and their playgrounds will have different layouts and equipment. However, schools will need to implement processes that protect people who use, clean and maintain their outdoor equipment.

Covid-19 risk assessment

Before playgrounds are allowed to be used, schools must first undertake a Covid-19 risk assessment. According to the government, this must be done in consultation with unions or, where representation isn’t in place, with the staff.

To ensure compliance with existing health and safety legislation, the assessment must examine the risk of potential Covid-19 transmission for anyone who uses the equipment, including pupils, teachers, teaching assistants and playground supervisors, as well as any cleaning and maintenance staff or those from third parties. The governing body’s responsibility is to “do everything reasonably practicable” to minimise risk.

Social distancing

Social distancing remains one of the government’s key strategies to reduce the spread of Coronavirus and this currently requires people to keep 2 metres apart or 1 metre with risk mitigations. The government recognises, however, that maintaining social distancing can be challenging in a playground setting and that schools will need to implement additional measures.

One option is to limit the number of pupils and staff who have access to the playground at any one time, perhaps adjusting the school timetable to put this in place. In addition, further social distancing can be implemented by limiting the number of pupils using a specific piece of equipment or reducing the length of time they can play on it.

Further measures include using signs to communicate the maximum number of users, increasing supervision to ensure pupils follow instructions, implementing a one-way travel route around the playground and between equipment and, where pieces of equipment are less than 2 metres apart, temporarily shutting one down.

Cleaning and hygiene

The cleaning of equipment is vital to prevent the spread of the virus, especially if it is being used by different pupil bubbles throughout the day. Schools are advised to clean busy touchpoints frequently. This includes equipment such as climbing frames, slides, play towers, play huts, crawl tunnels, exercise bars, gym equipment, gates, benches, picnic tables and bins.

If pupils are grouped into bubbles, cleaning is most effective if done after each bubble has left the playground and before the next bubble arrives. Cleaning products should be those which are effective against the virus but which do not pose injury or harm to users.

Face coverings

Under current Covid-19 guidance, face coverings are only required in enclosed public spaces and only for children under 11. While Schools Minister, Nick Gibb, said pupils over 11 will be expected to wear them on school buses and moving around school buildings, they are not required in classrooms as other protective measures are being introduced.

As playgrounds are not enclosed spaces, there is no current requirement for children over 11 to wear a mask. However, if social distancing is difficult to maintain when using playground equipment, it is an option that schools could consider.

Other considerations

Besides the guidance given above, other advice includes using playground posters and signage to remind pupils and staff of the school’s procedures and of general COVID protection advice; placing sanitising stations next to equipment and at entrances; providing more waste bins and increasing the frequency of rubbish collections, and banning the consumption of food or drink in the playground or on play equipment.

SEND pupils

The government has also issued advice on how schools should help pupils with additional needs in playground environments. For example, they may need more frequent reminders about new rules or require assistance moving between apparatus or carrying out hygiene regimes.

Conclusion

The new normal in schools is going to take a great deal of adjustment for pupils and staff alike in September. Being able to participate in play is vital to help children acclimatise to the new setup and begin to socialise again after months of lockdown. Hopefully, the advice given by the government and summarised here will help you provide a safe and inviting playground for your pupils. For more information, visit the government’s outdoor playground and gym guidance page.

For more information about our products, visit our Products Page.

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Social Play Ideas For Post-Lockdown Playgrounds

Primary pupils

According to mental health professionals, when children return to full-time education in September, schools should prioritise play and socialising over learning. After months of lockdown and with little opportunity for face to face interactions, experts say many children will be suffering from loneliness and isolation. Social play will help them overcome their loneliness and make it easier to overcome anxiety about being in an educational setting whose ‘new-normal’ seems alien. In this post, we’ll look at how the playground can be used to encourage and facilitate socialising and to support children on their transition back into education.

The value of social play

While children get plenty of opportunities to interact in the classroom, the activities they participate in and the topics of discussion are directed by the teacher. Only during free time, away from the teacher and the classroom rules, do they get the chance to engage with each other freely. This makes the playground an ideal place to facilitate and encourage social play. Doing so not only helps them readjust to life after lockdown; it aids their development, helping them acquire the valuable communication and social skills that they will depend upon throughout their lives.

Play is crucial for social and emotional development. It helps children to make friends and build relationships and it develops empathy, trust and an understanding of social norms. Indeed, play gives children the chance to learn from their mistakes: through falling out and making up, they learn how to manage emotions, resolve conflicts and develop resilience. It also provides opportunities to share their thoughts and feelings and to support one and other, something which will be crucial post-lockdown.

Communication skills are essential for social development and outdoor play provides a myriad of opportunities for verbal interaction. Interaction between children is needed to make choices about the activities they want to do and then to take part in them. They’ll need to negotiate, discuss, explain, take turns, ask and answer questions, listen and respond; learning as they do from interactions that went well and those which didn’t. It’s not just speaking and listening skills that they develop either, the playground is an ideal place to learn about non-verbal communication. They’ll discover how to read and respond to facial expressions, gestures and body language and hone their skills in using them.

Equipping your playground for social play

As all children are different, facilitating social play requires a range of playground equipment, this way you’ll be able to encourage every child to take part in activities where they can interact with others. Thankfully, there is equipment for all kinds of activity and something to suit everyone.

Social sports

Team sports are excellent for encouraging social interactions. It develops camaraderie, the sense of fair play and requires plenty of communication. Playground sports markings are the ideal way to encourage the participation of larger groups of children and with sports such as netball, football, basketball and rounders catered for, there’s something that will appeal to most children. There’s also a variety of nets, hoops, ball walls and targets that can be added to make the sports more fun.

Fun and games

Kids love playing games together and there is a multitude of equipment that will encourage them to socialise. These include fun and games playground markings for chess, hopscotch and even a mini roadway; outdoor tabletop games like snakes and ladders, Connect 4 and Ludo as well as battleship boards. There’s also table football, table tennis and skipping rope games.

Creative interactions

Another great way to get children playing together is through being creative. They can do this by drawing, chalking and painting together using a variety of outdoor drawing and chalkboards, making music with fun outdoor musical instruments, like xylophones, chimes and drainpipe drums or by singing together on a playground stage. They can also get creatively messy with a mud kitchen, sandpit or with water and sand play equipment.

Roleplay

Younger children love to get involved in roleplay activities and it is important for their social and emotional development that they get the opportunity. There is some fantastic outdoor roleplay equipment to inspire their imaginations, this includes under-over bridges, trains, storytelling chairs, shop/kiosk panels, carriages, playboats, wigwam posts, play huts and more.

Thrill-seeking play

Thrill-seeking play is excellent for getting children to interact and be sociable. It encourages them to collaborate to overcome challenges and to support each other; it gives opportunities for roleplay and discussion and lets children who have been cooped up over lockdown have a great deal of physical fun. ESP Play has a comprehensive range of climbing equipment, including Trim Trails obstacle courses, play towers, climbing walls, Tangled rope play equipment and FreeFlow modular climbing frame systems.

Conclusion

Social play has always been essential for children’s development and now, following the lockdown, it is also needed to address the isolation, loneliness and anxiety of children returning to school. If you are looking for playground equipment to provide better social play opportunities, hopefully, the ideas mentioned here will have given you some inspiration.

For more information about our products, visit our Products Page.

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5 Things to Consider Before Upgrading a School Playground

Primary pupils

While all playgrounds eventually come to a stage where they need a revamp, how you develop the space moving forward is something that requires a lot of thought. Modern playgrounds need to fulfil several important functions and meet the needs of your pupils. To help you better understand the process, here are some questions to consider before upgrading a school playground.

1. Does your current playground cater for all pupils?

A playground should be for all the children in your school; however, it is easy for those on duty to spot those who make active use of it and those who do not. Before planning your improvements, it is important to find out why some children don’t get involved and what you can do to make it better for them.

You may find that some features of your playground are not suitable for all ages, for example, younger children may be too small to use the climbing equipment. It may not suit all interests; there could be too many sports markings and little space for those who prefer imaginative or creative activities. There may be equipment that children queue up to use because there isn’t enough of it and other pieces which stand idle because no-one enjoys playing on it anymore.

The only way to find out how the playground can work for everyone is to talk to the children and ask them what equipment or features they would make use of. This way, your new playground will provide facilities for everyone.

2. Is your playground inclusive?

While some children may choose not to play, others find themselves prevented from joining in. Children with disabilities, particularly wheelchair users, might find it difficult to move around the space because of inadequate surfacing or narrow pathways. They may also find themselves left alone while their friends are playing on equipment that hasn’t been adapted to give them access. Some are even left unable to sit around a picnic table with their friends because it hasn’t been designed for wheelchairs to fit underneath.

Children with other needs may also feel excluded; those with autism, for example, might find the playground too noisy or busy to feel comfortable and would prefer it if there was a quiet, outdoor space to retreat to during break times.

Again, talking to these pupils and their parents, together with careful scrutiny of your existing space can help ensure that any redevelopment results in an inclusive playground that is accessible by everybody.

3. Is your playground safe?

Before you can consider adding shiny new features to your playground, one of your key priorities will be to address any safety issues that are currently there. These can include broken or damaged pieces of equipment, degraded surfacing, uneven pathways, warn or loose steps, splintering wooden mulch and so forth, which may need replacing or repair.

You will also have to consider the additional safety features needed for your new playground, for example, putting wetpour surfacing underneath climbing equipment to absorb impact and reduce the likelihood of serious injury.

4. Does the playground address children’s needs?

Playgrounds are just as much for learning as recreation and there needs to be a range of equipment that can help with the development of a wide range of skills, including communication, problem-solving, social interaction, risk-taking and resilience. Similarly, there needs to be the opportunity to take part in physical activity and to encourage the adoption of healthy lifestyles. This can mean installing sports and climbing equipment or even a nature area for mental wellbeing. You may also want to develop the playground so it can be used as an outdoor classroom or provide learning continuity between indoor and outdoor spaces.

5. Upgrading a school playground - financial questions

Finally, once you have considered all the above aspects, you’ll need to look at the finances you have available. Upgrading a playground can be expensive and with school budgets getting tighter, the money for the project, or at least some of it, often comes from fundraising or a grant. Schools will need to see what capacity there is in the school budget to contribute towards the project as well as looking at what grants are available (we can help you with this) and how much can be raised through PTA events and similar activities. Only once you have a budget can you plan the scale of your development.

Conclusion

Modern playgrounds have to tick a lot of boxes to be fit for purpose. They need to engage all pupils, be inclusive and accessible, be safe to use and ensure that children’s physical, emotional and educational needs are catered for. Putting these things in place when upgrading a school playground ensures that your investment and the time and effort that goes into raising the funds is worthwhile.

If you need advice about upgrading a school playground, call us on 01282 43 44 45 or visit our homepage to find out more about our products and playground design and installation services.

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Developing a Sensory Playground for Young Children

Primary pupils

We use our senses to help us live in the physical world. Without them, life would be far more challenging, especially in the complex societies in which we now live. Giving young children the ability to experience the world on a sensory level and to learn how to use the senses is, therefore, vital for their development. Here, we look at the way this can be done for sight, hearing, touch and smell in the playground.

The importance of sensory play

Sensory play develops children in many ways. On a physiological level, it helps with brain development, building important connections between neural pathways that give them the ability to do more complex thinking, solve problems, communicate, move nimbly and navigate.

Part of the way we use senses is to help us survive. As children explore, they develop the sensory skills which are important for keeping them safe: distinguishing hot from cold, low from high, soft from hard, smooth from rough and wet from dry. They become attuned to sensations which are safe and pleasant and those which are hazardous and unpleasant. In the playground, this can be done in a safe, controlled way.

Sensory play equipment for nurseries and schools

There is a sensory element to many of the pieces of outdoor play equipment that we provide at ESP Play. Below, we will take four of the five senses and look at some of the best equipment to help with their development.

Sight

Sight is perhaps our most used sense and we depend upon it in many ways. It helps us understand distance, direction, colour, shape, size, elevation, brightness, pattern, texture, speed, number, emotion and much more.

To make the most of sight in a playground, we need to give children opportunities to see things at a distance, perhaps with a play tower, and close up, with a magnifying glass or concave mirror. Indeed, in a small playground, a plane wall mirror can also help give the impression of distance. Colours can be introduced through coloured playground surfaces, painted walls, plants and a variety of different coloured equipment. Similarly, these can be a mixture of light and dark, bright and dull, reflective and non-reflective.

Movement can be created through physical activity, such as throwing balls, as well as through installing wind-moved objects like mobiles and mini windmills. Shape, of course, is everywhere, but standard shapes, like triangles, circles and rectangles, can be provided through playground markings.

Hearing

Like sight, our auditory senses give us lots of ways to understand the world around us. We use it to distinguish between types of things, their speed and their direction of movement. We also use it to communicate, both verbally and non-verbally.

Any playground will come with built-in noises: the sound of play, the sounds of nature and those of the local environment like traffic and factories. However, it is possible to complement these with wind chimes, bells and horns or even install purpose-designed outdoor musical instruments, like drainpipe drums, chimes and xylophones.

Touch

The nerves in our skin tell us not only where we are being touched but also a great deal about what is touching us and whether it is safe. Indeed, we are so sensitive to touch we can feel some things, like heat and wind, without physical contact. The more a child gets to experience touch, the better they become as interpreting the world around them.

To give children the chance to develop touch skills, they need as wide a variety of tactile experiences as possible. This can be achieved by using objects and equipment that range from hard to soft, smooth to textured, taut to slack and warm to cold. Contrasting sensory experiences can be easily achieved in a well-resourced playground through a variety of ways, from different types of playground surfacing (e.g. resin-bound gravel, rubber mulch and soft grass), climbing equipment (e.g. wooden beams, ropes and jungle bars), play apparatus (water and sand equipment, soft toys, throwing equipment) and nature (trees and plants).

Smell

Our olfactory sense plays a key part in our day to day awareness. It helps us to discover and avoid dangers, like fire and chemicals, it can tell us whether food has gone bad and when things are dirty. It is also a sense that brings much pleasure and through which we can be attracted to things like food and flowers. And though our sense of smell is far less developed than some other animals, we can still use it to identify people, places and things.

The playground can be an excellent source of smells. If there is an area of greenery, this can be used to create a garden with a variety of scents coming from various trees, shrubs, herbs and flowers and if these are carefully chosen, it is possible to have different smells being given off throughout the year. Where a school lacks a garden, it is still possible to create a nature area using planters and trellises, even embellishing it with a little artificial grass, if need be.

Aside from natural smells, it is also possible to create a smell zone. Fasten a few small wooden boxes around the site, drill holes in them and place scraps of scented material inside, perhaps using things like vanilla, cinnamon, lemon and ginger. When there’s a breeze, the scent will gently waft around the playground. You could even set children the task of identifying what the smells are each week.

Conclusion

Sensory play is essential for all children, helping them develop skills needed for living and for promoting the development of neural pathways in the brain. The playground is the ideal location for this as children have the freedom to explore the senses at their own leisure and pace. And while the outdoors naturally provides many sensory experiences of its own, with carefully chosen outdoor equipment, you can create an environment that meets all their sensory needs.

For more information, take a look at our Products Page.

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