How School Playgrounds Can Improve Pupil Wellbeing

The crisis in child mental health is a major concern. According to the former president of the NEU, Louise Regan, ‘Teachers are overwhelmed by the sheer number of students showing signs of mental health problems.’ Indeed, at 400,000 a year, the number of children being referred for mental health treatment is staggering. But what can schools do to help combat this rise in mental health issues? Surprisingly, making changes to your playground can have a significant impact. In this post, we’ll look at how changing your playground can help your students’ wellbeing.

The benefits of just being outside

One simple way to improve wellbeing is to make sure pupils get outside where they naturally feel freer. Getting them outdoors frequently, even for short periods, can help stop stress levels building up and make it easier for pupils to manage the day without feeling overwhelmed.

Going outdoors also exposes the children to sunlight which, even in cloudy conditions, helps their bodies create vitamin D. This essential substance is known to help with the production of the hormone serotonin, which can reduce stress and anxiety and improve the feeling of wellbeing.

Many schools are now extending the amount of time pupils spend outside by creating outdoor classrooms. These have become very popular over the last few years and there is now specialist, curriculum-based, outdoor learning equipment available to help schools put these in place.

Promoting positive moods

Wellbeing can be enhanced by improving mood and one of the most effective ways this can be achieved is to encourage students to take part in regular periods of mildly intense physical exercise.

When done over the long term, this improves optimism, making children more enthusiastic and putting them in a more positive mood. The added benefit is that it improves behaviour and, as children can feel very stressed when they get into trouble, the potential for such stressful situations to happen is reduced.

There are various ways schools can encourage pupils to participate in mildly intense physical exercise. One popular initiative is The Daily Mile, which aims to get children running, jogging or walking a mile each day while at school. Equipment such as playground markings is also useful because they provide pupils with the means to take part in a diverse range of aerobic activities, such as football, netball and traditional playground games like hopscotch and skipping.

De-stressing through play

With the Ofsted focus on progress and attainment, it’s no surprise that the pressure put on children to achieve is greater than ever. This has made schools increasingly stressful environments and is likely to be a significant contributor to the rise in child mental health problems, such as anxiety, depression, self-harming and eating disorders.

Getting pupils to take part in physical play is an effective way to combat stress. Indeed, the more they participate, the lower their stress levels will become. Independent research has shown that children who are given the opportunity to play on outdoor equipment increase their activity levels by almost 15%. With the wide range of exciting outdoor play equipment available, there’s no end of active fun that pupils can enjoy.

Making happy happen

Ultimately, wellbeing is linked to making children feel good about themselves and there are many ways that this can be achieved in the playground. Take our Trim Trails equipment, for example. These pieces enable you to create exciting obstacle courses, tailor-made for your pupils, that will encourage them to participate in physical activity and leave them feeling truly exhilarated, time and time again.

In addition, there’s the sense of achievement that can come from completing a challenge, such as successfully getting to the end of a traversing wall or managing to complete a circuit of a Free Flow climbing frame. When children set themselves a challenge and then manage to accomplish it, it can leave them feeling uplifted and confident and put them in a very positive mood.

For those children who find the constant business of the classroom and bustle of the playground too much to bear, providing a quiet garden or nature zone can often be the ideal solution. While these are best placed away from the noisy playground, even schools with limited outdoor spaces can use fences, planters and trellises to transform a corner of a playground into a place of calm where children are surrounded by nature and can restore their inner peace.

Conclusion

With schools having to take more responsibility for the mental wellbeing of their students, putting in measures that can reduce stress, improve mood and make children feel better about themselves is crucial. Hopefully, this post will have shown you that the playground is the ideal place to start and that the equipment mentioned here can help you put those measures into place.

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Does Your Playground Meet DfES Expectations?

Although it was published back in 2006, the DfES publication ‘Schools for the future: designing school groundsstill stands as the definitive guide for creating modern playgrounds. The intention of the DfES, then and now, is for schools to increase opportunities for safe, challenging and collaborative play and the aim of the guide is to provide best practice in doing so. In this post, we’ll look at the DfES expectations for school playgrounds and give some ideas for the types of equipment that can help you meet them.

The theory behind the DfES strategy

At the time of publication and, perhaps, even more so today, children have few opportunities to participate in play that is safe, challenging and collaborative. The DfES’ concern is that this can lead to physical and mental health problems as well as social and behavioural issues. The belief is that, by improving playgrounds, schools can raise achievement and self-esteem, improve health and behaviour, and help children develop a wider range of important skills.

Play is crucial to pupils’ learning and development. It enables children to discover things about themselves, others and the world around them. According to the DfES guide, a well-designed school playground should give children the opportunity ‘to learn through experimenting, taking risks, undertaking challenges and finding out where their limits lie.’

The varied playground landscape

One of the primary elements of best practice design called for by the DfES is for schools to create playgrounds with a varied landscape. They should be safe, comfortable, and welcoming places where inventive boundaries are used to create a range of inspiring activity zones that cater for the needs of different pupils.

One of these zones should be a green nature and garden area where plants can be grown and where pupils can even get involved in the gardening process, perhaps by using the many planters which are currently available. Another key zone is the outdoor classroom, which should be a place for active learning as well as for sitting and writing. With a wide range of curriculum based playground equipment available, it’s easier than ever to meet this design expectation.

Places for challenge and risk

Challenge and managed risk are critical for child development, especially in early years. And while the DfES acknowledges the importance of safeguarding and the need for risk assessment, the guide states that this shouldn’t stop pupils ‘experiencing adventurous and creative play.’

Luckily, there is a lot of equipment for schools seeking to create adventure zones where children can challenge and manage risk safely. These include Trim Trails, where you can build your own obstacle course with balance beams, dip bars, stepping poles, clamber under and over obstacles, leap frog posts, jungle bars, wobbly bridges, log climbers and a wide range of other pieces.

Other excellent challenge and risk equipment includes the modular Free Flow climbing system. While this has similar challenges to the Trim Trails, its design means all the different elements are combined into a single piece of apparatus. In addition, there are imaginatively challenging rope based Tangled products and a range of fun play towers and climbing walls.

The guide goes on to mention the usefulness of ‘play equipment that is versatile and can be adapted’. One of the best systems for this is the Interchangeable Trim Trails. With easy to use interchangeable components, schools can modify the course of the trail as often as they wish, increasing or decreasing the challenge for each item of equipment.

Places for physical activity

While climbing and jumping are great physical activities, the DfES also emphasises the need for schools to have large areas where children can run around. Though this can be achieved with an empty schoolyard, these places are not going to motivate children to use them. Often the best and most affordable solution is to install playground markings.

Playground markings come in a huge range of varieties and can transform a bland and uninspiring piece of asphalt into something dramatically different. You can create sports pitches, such as football, netball and rounders, and install traditional playground games like hopscotch together with more modern games. There are also lots of training markings and even curriculum based markings you can choose.

Other expected design elements

Aside from the zones mentioned above, the other areas that the DfES expects a good playground to provide include quiet spaces, away from others, where children can chat with friends while still being supervised; enclosed secret spaces for hiding, such as woodland huts and play huts; zones for imaginative play, like making mud pies and playing with water; and places where children can gather together, such as an octagonal shelter.

Summing Up

Schools for the future: designing school grounds’ still stands as the DfES guide to creating a modern school playground. Hopefully, this post will have explained what the features of an ideal DfES playground are and shown you the kinds of products and equipment you can use when creating the various zones.

If you need assistance with the design of your playground, our free playground design service can help you make the best choices for your school. Alternatively, give us a call on 01282 43 44 45, we’ll be happy to help.

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Top 5 Trends in School Playground Design

As specialists in playground equipment, we’ve seen a lot of changes in how playgrounds are designed over the years. With the development of new and exciting products and the implementation of government-directed initiatives, trends in playground design have shifted towards equipment which encourages physical activity, creativity, social inclusion and learning. These include trim trails, climbing tower systems, innovative surfacing and playground markings, and outdoor classrooms. Here, we’ll show you the top playground design trends currently being used today.

1. Trim Trails

Trim Trails are a very popular choice for schools as they provide pupils with an exciting obstacle course to navigate their way around. Not only are they endless fun to play on, they also encourage participation in physical activity. If children want to conquer the course, they’ll need to get active and master some new skills.

What’s great about a Trim Trails course is that schools are able to create their own design by mixing and matching the most appropriate elements for the needs of their pupils. It also means you can work to a set budget, too. There are three sets of Trim Trails: simplified, intermediate and advanced, each providing a different level of challenge so that you can cater for everyone from EYFS upwards.

The various elements you can choose from include log climbers, wobbly bridges, balance bars, climbing nets, chin-up and dip bars, striding posts, clamber under and over challenges, swinging logs and jungle bars. If you want to keep the challenge fresh, our interchangeable Trim Trails have interchangeable components which enable you to easily modify the course so that there is always something different for the children to do.

2. Modular climbing tower systems

Modular climbing systems are a regular site in primary playgrounds. Like Trim Trails, they are designed to inspire physical activity and improve strength, stamina and coordination. Being modular, it means you can design your own system and add to it later on if you need to budget for it over several academic years.

At ESP Play, we called our modular climbing system Freeflow because, being built on a grid structure, it has no defined start and end. This means children can get on at any point they like and are free to move around in any way that takes their fancy. There are a variety of exciting modules you can add to your design, these include traverse walls and nets, rope crossings, tyre bridges and crazy trails.

Experience has shown us that modular climbing tower systems have the most impact when the pupils are involved in the design process. This gives a great opportunity for the school council to get involved. It also helps generate fundraising ideas.

3. Outdoor classrooms

Over the last few years, one of the biggest trends we’ve seen is the development of outdoor learning environments. With the move towards active learning and lack of space being a problem in schools, outdoor learning provides lots of benefits, including getting the children out of stuffy classrooms and into the fresh air.

Today, there are all kinds of curriculum-based outdoor classroom resources available to install in your playground. Many of these are interchangeable, subject-specific panels, suitable for everyone from EYFS to KS4, which can be attached and removed from upright posts whenever they are needed. They can show learning objectives and instructions, be written and drawn on and be used to measure, calculate, take notes and more. ESP panels incorporate curriculum-friendly tools such as abacuses, coordinate grids and weather measurement instruments and cater for a wide range of subject areas, such as art and design, design and technology, English, geography, history, maths, MFL, music, PE and science.

There are also more specialised pieces of equipment, such as outdoor musical instruments, tangram tables, discovery planters, magnetic boards and much more.

4. Wetpour surfacing and playground markings

Wetpour surfacing, made from recycled rubber, has become the surfacing of choice for many schools because it absorbs the impact of a fall. Not only does this make it the ideal surfacing for those schools looking to install climbing equipment, it also prevents many of the injuries children get when playing on traditional asphalt playgrounds. Available in a range of colours, it’s also a great way to make your drab playground more welcoming.

What has made wetpour surfacing even more attractive to so many schools, is that it combines perfectly with playground markings. Together, they enable schools to create safe and affordable sports pitches, multi-skills zones and fun and games areas. There are even curriculum inspired markings such as compass hopscotch and phonetic spots.

5. Seated shelters

No child likes being sent out to play when the weather isn’t great and it can make for a miserable experience. Aside from keeping children indoors and all the problems this creates, a more suitable solution and one that many schools are turning to, is to provide outdoor shelters.

One of the most popular choices is the octagonal shelter with solid sides, decking and seating. While still providing exposure to natural daylight and fresh air, it keeps children dry and gives some protection from the cold and wind. These shelters ensure pupils have a place to sit, chat and move about during inclement weather and are also useful for holding outdoor lessons. Other options include shaded pergolas, pitched-roofed shelters, sail shade shelters and, for younger children, play huts.

Conclusion

The landscape of the school playground has changed dramatically over the last few years with a greater emphasis on making them become fun places that can inspire learning, increase social interaction and encourage healthier lifestyles. Hopefully, the trends we’ve shown here will inspire your next playground upgrade.

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5 Sustainable Ways to Invest Your School Sport Premium

The government’s commitment to fund the School PE and Sport Premium only lasts until 2020 and unless this is extended, schools have only two more years to benefit from the additional income this generates. With this in mind, it’s more important than ever to spend the funding in a way that has long-term benefits. In this post, we’ll look at five ways you can invest your School Sport Premium for the future.  

What is the School Sport Premium?

The School PE and Sport Premium is an initiative which delivers ring-fenced funding to English primary schools to help them improve PE and sport provision. Schools with over 17 pupils receive an £8,000 lump sum plus an additional £5 per pupil, while those with fewer than 17 get £500 per pupil.

This is a generous figure for cash-strapped schools and, used wisely, can make a huge difference. There are, however, conditions which need to be met: the money has to be spent on additional and sustainable improvements to PE and sports provision, it has to benefit all pupils and encourage them to lead more active and healthy lifestyles.

Investing for sustained improvement

Using the funding in a way which meets the conditions for which it is given can be a challenge. To achieve ‘sustained improvement’ means spending it on something that will have an impact over the long term. Perhaps the best examples of things which can achieve this are training staff so they can teach additional sports or skills in the future, or by purchasing equipment that can be used for many years and which encourages more children to participate. With this in mind, here are five suggestions to consider.

An overview of Sports Premium Funding

Set to run until 2020, the Primary PE and Sports Premium is a £150 million per annum initiative designed to improve the provision of PE and sport in schools throughout England. During the initiative, any school with more than 17 pupils aged five to eleven receives £8,000 a year plus £5 per pupil. Those with fewer than 17 on roll, receive £500 per pupil.

Requirements of Sports Premium Funding

The key stipulation of the initiative is that funding must be spent on additional and sustainable improvements to the provision of PE and sport and that these must be for the benefit of all pupils to encourage them to lead healthy, active lifestyles.

In other words, the money a school receives has to add to or improve PE and sports provision and do so in a way that benefits all pupils over the long term.

To ensure that the funding is spent as instructed, schools may be asked to provide evidence to inspectors that shows the impact of the Sports Premium on PE and sports provision and how this has improved pupil health and activity levels.

How can you spend your Sports Premium Funding?

There are quite a few ways you can use the funds, here are some of the main ones:

  • purchase equipment that extends provision or encourages activity
  • introduce new sporting or physical activities to encourage wider pupil participation
  • train existing teachers to deliver new sports or improve existing skills
  • hire specialist coaches to work alongside teaching staff
  • run extracurricular clubs and activities for the least active children
  • host sporting competitions, including interschool events

1. Install a Daily Mile Track

Daily Mile Tracks - School Sports Premium

The Daily Mile Challenge is a new project that aims to tackle inactivity and obesity by getting all pupils to complete a daily, one-mile circuit at school. Unlike cross country, this is more of a social activity, where children can run, jog or walk at their own pace with their friends. Taking around 15 minutes out of the school day, it has become increasingly popular with over 3000 UK schools taking part. It has also been taken up in many other countries.

Investing your School Sport Premium in a Daily Mile track can bring sustainable improvements in provision for all pupils, including the least active. Taking part can help the pupils improve their physical and mental health and their social and emotional wellbeing. Regular exercise can also help with behaviour, concentration and even attainment.

2. Kit out your playground with outdoor sports equipment

Primary schools often have little in the way of PE resources, one of the main reasons being a lack of storage space. One way to get around this is to provide permanently erected, outdoor sports equipment in the playground.

Outdoor equipment doesn’t need storage space and it can be used for a variety of purposes: PE lessons, extracurricular sporting activities and for active play during lunch and break times. In this sense, its impact is sustained in terms of how it is used throughout the school day and over the years that it remains fit for use.

Typical examples of sports equipment include basketball and netball hoops, goals (with either nets or recesses), freestanding ball catchers and ball walls for practising football, tennis and cricket. If you are short of space, you can even install multi-sports equipment, such as our combined football - hoop units which are ideal for football, hockey, netball and basketball.

3. Get some proper sports surfacing

Primary schools often have little in the way of PE resources, one of the main reasons being a lack of storage space. One way to get around this is to provide permanently erected, outdoor sports equipment in the playground.

Outdoor equipment doesn’t need storage space and it can be used for a variety of purposes: PE lessons, extracurricular sporting activities and for active play during lunch and break times. In this sense, its impact is sustained in terms of how it is used throughout the school day and over the years that it remains fit for use.

Typical examples of sports equipment include basketball and netball hoops, goals (with either nets or recesses), freestanding ball catchers and ball walls for practising football, tennis and cricket. If you are short of space, you can even install multi-sports equipment, such as our combined football - hoop units which are ideal for football, hockey, netball and basketball.

4. Mark out your existing playground for more sports

Playground markings offer a practical and affordable way to extend the number of sports and activities you provide. There is a wide range of sports playground markings available, including football, futsal (5-a-side football), tennis, netball, rounders, cricket and basketball.

These markings can be installed on most hard surfaces, provided they are in reasonable condition, enabling your school playground to double up as an outdoor sports facility while providing pupils with new pitches to play on during their free time.

For schools with small playgrounds, an ideal solution is to install multicourt markings. A multicourt is a single space over which there are markings for futsal, netball and basketball.

5. Install a multi-skill zone

A multi-skills zone meets all the criteria that the School Sports Premium stipulates. With long lasting markings and all year availability, they can be used during lessons, for extra-curricular activities or for playground games.

Their versatility enables more pupils to benefit from them, giving increased opportunity to develop key physical skills such as agility, balance, coordination, stability and physical awareness and sporting skills such as footwork, jumping, throwing and ball skills.

There is a diverse selection of multi-skills markings to choose from, enabling schools to create zones tailored for their specific needs. These include the ‘Famous Five’ multi-skills markings (ideal for working with groups on a range of different skills), a multi-skills circle, agility ladder and trainer trail. There are many more to choose from.

Conclusion

The School Sports Premium is an opportunity to invest in the long-term provision of sports and PE in your school. The ideas we have provided here enable schools to deliver new and additional provision that we think will offer sustainable improvements in your school and which can benefit all pupils, including the least active.

For more information, take a look at our School Sport Premium page or call us on 01282 43 44 45.

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Outdoor Multi-Skills Zones – The Ideal Sports Premium Investment

If you are looking for an ideal way to use this year’s Sports Premium Funding, then a multi-skills zone may be the answer. These highly versatile zones enable primary schools to make sustainable improvements to their PE and sports provision: developing skills, increasing activity levels and enabling greater participation in a multitude of activities.

An overview of Sports Premium Funding

Set to run until 2020, the Primary PE and Sports Premium is a £150 million per annum initiative designed to improve the provision of PE and sport in schools throughout England. During the initiative, any school with more than 17 pupils aged five to eleven receives £8,000 a year plus £5 per pupil. Those with fewer than 17 on roll, receive £500 per pupil.

Requirements of Sports Premium Funding

The key stipulation of the initiative is that funding must be spent on additional and sustainable improvements to the provision of PE and sport and that these must be for the benefit of all pupils to encourage them to lead healthy, active lifestyles.

In other words, the money a school receives has to add to or improve PE and sports provision and do so in a way that benefits all pupils over the long term.

To ensure that the funding is spent as instructed, schools may be asked to provide evidence to inspectors that shows the impact of the Sports Premium on PE and sports provision and how this has improved pupil health and activity levels.

How can you spend your Sports Premium Funding?

There are quite a few ways you can use the funds, here are some of the main ones:

  • purchase equipment that extends provision or encourages activity
  • introduce new sporting or physical activities to encourage wider pupil participation
  • train existing teachers to deliver new sports or improve existing skills
  • hire specialist coaches to work alongside teaching staff
  • run extracurricular clubs and activities for the least active children
  • host sporting competitions, including interschool events

Why install multi-skill zones with Sports Premium funding?

A multi-skills zone provides the ideal solution for how to invest your Sports Premium Funding because it meets all the criteria that the fund stipulates.

With regard to sustainability, the playground markings used to create a multi-skills zone are very long lasting, ensuring that your investment is there for years to come. What’s more, they are always available to use, no matter what time of year.

Here at ESP play, we also provide multi-skills zone training for staff and pupils and, once this is delivered, not only does everyone have the equipment, they also have the necessary know-how to use them effectively well into the future – increasing their sustainability even more.

Besides sustainability, playground multi-skills zones are also incredibly versatile. They can be used during curriculum time and for extra-curricular activities: breakfast clubs, fitness clubs and even for playing games during lunch and break times.

This versatility ensures that more pupils can take advantage of them, helping everyone to increase activity levels and develop skills. Indeed, multi-skills zones are designed to encompass all the skills areas that primary schools need to cover and which children need to learn as they get older: agility, balance, coordination, stability, stamina and physical awareness. They are also great for developing footwork (including combination routines), jumping and ball skills such as kicking, passing, bouncing, throwing and target hitting.

Whether they are being used to train pupils for specific sports or being played on for fun, multi-skills zones help develop fundamental movement skills, while increasing physical activity levels and the participation of the least active children.

Equipment you can use

With an extraordinary range of playground markings to choose from, it is possible for schools to create their own, bespoke multi-skills zones tailored for their specific needs. There are age appropriate designs, markings for specific skill development and those which can be used for a variety of purposes, including playing games and having fun at lunch and break times. All of them are designed to encourage children of different ages and interests to get active.

While our ‘Famous Five’ multi-skills markings are very popular with primary PE teachers, enabling them to work with groups of children on a range of different skills within one area, there are plenty of others to choose from. Other popular markings include our multi-skills circle, agility ladder and trainer trail. Besides these, there are hurdle markings, a ball catcher trainer, football skills zone, fast feet trainers and many more.

Conclusion

While receiving the Sports Premium Funding is a welcome bonus for any primary school, finding equipment that enables you to provide sustainable improvement to PE provision can be a challenge. Creating an outdoor multi-skills zone using playground markings is one way to tick all the boxes, especially when you opt for our nationally accredited ESP Level 1 Multi-Skills Training. With equipment and training combined, you’ll be able to show improvement well into the future.

For more information, take a look at our range of multi-skills products or call us on 01282 43 44 45.

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