5 Tips on How to Equip an Outdoor Classroom

Children love learning outdoors when the weather is warm. It gets them some well needed fresh air, stops them feeling cooped up and can be a real relief from the stifling heat of poorly ventilated classrooms. The problem for many schools, however, is that taking learning outdoors isn’t practical as they just don’t have the resources. Well, not anymore. Now it’s possible to resource an outdoor space so that it can be used for a wide range of subject areas. In this post, we’ll give you five tips on how to equip your outdoor classroom.

1. Make sure you have the right playground flooring

If children are going to work outdoors, it’s likely that, at some stage, they will need to write or draw. The most comfortable position for this without a chair and desk is to sit or lay on the floor. Hard playground surfaces, however, aren’t good for this. They are uncomfortable and often leave children’s uniforms covered in a layer of dust or dirt. Softer surfaces, like grass, are much more suitable.

If you have a grassy area, then this would be the ideal place to locate your outdoor classroom. If you don’t have natural grass, you should consider installing artificial grass. It’s just as comfortable and clean to sit on, with the added advantages that it doesn’t need maintaining or mowing like real grass and doesn’t get muddy. Alternatively, you can also use a rubber wetpour surface which has a cushioned or padded feel to it. Either of these surfaces would be perfect for children to sit on and lay on to write.

2. Get some outdoor work benches

If you need a few tables and chairs for children to sit at, it isn’t always practical to carry ones from the classroom out into the yard. Picnic tables are a much better solution. They can be left out in the playground and used during break times and lunchtimes, too.

Alternatively, you can purchase curriculum based picnic style tables, with interchangeable tops such as our handwriting practice tabletop and MFL practice tabletop. These allow pupils to work on specific curriculum areas whilst sat at the tables.

3. Get subject specific outdoor resources

Wouldn’t it be great if you could install wooden posts in your playground to which you could easily attach a range of interchangeable, subject specific, working panels? Especially if you could put them up when you need them and take them down when you were finished. Well, you can – and there is a multitude to choose from covering almost every curriculum area and every age from EYFS to KS4.

Interchangeable panels can be used by staff to write out learning objectives and instructions or used by pupils to write, draw, measure, calculate, note take and much more. When you’re finished, simply wipe clean, take down and put them away for safe storage.

ESP Play outdoor curriculum panels are much more than simple outdoor whiteboards. Most of them incorporate useful tools such as abacuses, coordinate grids, weather measurement instruments (for measuring rainfall and windspeed), timelines, moving clock faces, etc.

These boards are designed to be useful and hard wearing outdoor classroom resources that can save teachers time and engage children in their lessons. Currently, we provide outdoor panels for the following subject areas: art and design, design and technology, English, geography, history, maths, MFL, music, PE and science. We also provide cross-curricular panels too.

4. Put your pupils on a pedestal

Outdoor lessons are great for groupwork and one of the best ways to finish off is to get the children to show the rest of the class what they have achieved. The ideal place to do this is on a raised platform where they can be seen clearly by everyone.

You can install a raised stage area inexpensively in any playground and putting one in your outdoor classroom is an easy way to create a focal point where the teacher or groups of children can present to others.  

Perfect for performances, presentations, speeches and showcasing work, we have a range of stages at ESP Play, including square, triangular, half stage and octagonal shaped stages.

5. Protect pupils from the sun

Whilst it is great to work outdoors, sometimes there is the risk of sunburn or sunstroke if it gets too hot. Providing an area where children can get some shade from direct sunlight whilst continuing with their lesson can be a useful addition to your outdoor classroom. It can also help if there’s an unexpected spot of rain.

Outdoor shading can be provided in three different way. The simplest form is a sail cover – a weatherproof canvas attached to the top of fixed poles. Alternatively, there is a range of pergolas available, including ones with built-in seats and decked flooring. Finally, you can install wooden structures, such as our large octagonal shelter, which comes with tiered seating, sides and a trellis.

All these shading products would be helpful not just for outdoor lessons but for use at break and lunchtimes. The large octagonal shelter can even be used to host some open-air performances.

Conclusion

Many schools are now developing outdoor classrooms as a way to enrich the curriculum and engage pupils in a wider range of activities. Here at ESP Play, we have been listening to what our customers have been saying and have responded by producing many of the resources these schools have been asking for. If you are considering creating your own outdoor classroom, we hope you’ll find these resources useful to you.

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6 Types of Playground Flooring Available for Schools

Playground Flooring from ESP Play

Playground flooring is becoming a requirement in school playgrounds more and more.

Today, we have a much greater choice available to us when it comes to playground flooring. There are surfaces which are much safer to play on and which offer a wider range of playground activities. With the right flooring in place, a playground can be transformed into something far more useful for outdoor lessons, PE and break times.

Here are six alternative types of playground flooring you can now choose from.

1. Artificial Grass and Sports Surfacing

Artificial grass can turn your playground from a dull grey desert into a green oasis overnight. It creates a far more pleasant and inviting outdoor space for children to enjoy and, being softer than tarmac or asphalt, it is safer for children to play on. It is ideal for warmer days too, as it is somewhere where children can sit and lay on in the sunshine – something they don’t normally do on uncomfortable and dirty surfaces like Tarmac or asphalt.

Artificial grass also makes great sports surfacing. You can install playground markings on the artificial grass to create a wide range of sports pitches and courts. This gives children the incentive to get involved in physical activities during break times and gives you extra PE facilities at the same time.

Unlike real grass, the artificial variety doesn’t need to be mowed, weeded or reseeded. It doesn’t get muddy, either, so can be used all year round – and it will last for many years.

2.Block Paving

Block paving is a great way to create safe, slip resistant pathways on your playground. It is ideal for use in high-traffic areas, for demarcating boundaries between different sections of your playground and for creating decorative features using its contrasting textures and patterns.

Long lasting and very hard wearing, block paving is an affordable and practical way to safely manage movement in your outdoor spaces.

3. Grass Matting

If you are lucky enough to have a grassed playground area, you’ll know that there can be times when it’s not ideal to let children play on it. It can get slippery and muddy when wet and worn down by overuse. Luckily, there is an excellent solution.

When you lay rubber grass matting over your existing grassed areas, it enables it to be used all year round. Grass matting reduces slippage in the wet, prevents children getting muddy when they land directly on the soil and stops the grass wearing away. The matting can be mowed over just like normal grass, making maintenance easy.

Grass matting is an economical way to improve the grassed areas of your playground, making them safer, letting them be used all year round and reducing the need for reseeding.

4. Resin Bound Gravel

A modern alternative to tarmac or asphalt, resin bound gravel can be used to cover playgrounds or pathways. Made from a combination of aggregate gravel and polyurethane resin, this playground flooring provides a hard and durable surface which, because of its porous properties, is resistant to forming puddles or staying wet on the surface. It also makes a high-quality, easy to use surface for wheelchair access.

5. Rubber Mulch

Available in a variety of colours, rubber mulch is a soft but solid playground flooring material made from recycled rubber pieces bonded together by high-performance polyurethane. The finished result gives an attractive appearance that looks like a natural bark chip surface but, unlike real bark, is fixed in place.

Rubber mulch creates a softer surface that is ideal for playgrounds as it cushions falls, reducing the potential for injury when children are playing.

6. Wetpour Surfacing

Wetpour surfacing is similar to rubber mulch in that recycled rubber is bonded together to create a soft, impact absorbent playground surface. The difference is that wetpour surfaces are smooth and so are more useful for playing games and sports. In addition, a wetpour surface can be used in conjunction with playground markings to create safe and durable sports courts and pitches.

Available in a wide choice of colours, wetpour playground flooring makes it is possible to create your own patterns and designs using a mixture of different colours. This type of surface, common in many public playgrounds and play areas, is ideal for schools. It is free-draining, maintenance free, highly durable and wheelchair friendly. It also makes the perfect surface for schools wishing to install trim trails, climbing frames and other outdoor playground equipment.

Conclusion

As you can see from this post, the choice of playground flooring available to schools today enables you to create far safer environments which are more attractive to play on, can be used for a wider range of sports and activities and which need little or no maintenance. For more details, see our playground flooring and surfacing page.

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How Schools with a Small Playground Can Still Offer a Wide Range of Sports

Not every school has an abundance of outdoor space which can be utilised for sports and for those that have nothing more than a small playground or a slither of greenery, there can be real issues for providing sporting opportunities for their pupils. Luckily, however, there are practical and affordable solutions that help you to make the most of the limited space available. In this post, we’ll take a look at the best ones on offer.

The problems of having limited outdoor space for sport

Schools sports are important to young people. It's where most pupils learn how to play a range of different sports, some of which they may end up playing well into their adult years. They help to keep children fit and healthy, especially in these modern times when children don’t get to play out like previous generations. And then there is the pleasure of taking part in the great tradition of inter-school sports competitions. All of these things are limited and sometimes even denied to children at schools with lack of adequate outdoor space.

But whilst we can’t all have Eton’s 7200ft, £17 million, Olympic rowing lake, there are ways which those schools deprived of space can still provide a range of sports for their students.

Playground markings for school sports

Playground markings provide the easiest, most practical and most affordable solution to schools looking for ways to offer more sports to their pupils. At ESP Play, we provide playground markings for a wide range of team sports including football, futsal (a version of 5-a-side football), tennis, netball, rounders, cricket and basketball.

All these can be used on a typical playground hard surface, are inexpensive to install and are hard wearing. This means you can double up your school playground as your outdoor sports venue and provide your pupils with pitches to play on during break times.

For those schools that are seriously short of space, the ultimate solution can be found in our multicourt markings. A multicourt consists of futsal, netball and basketball markings overlaid on a single court. The markings for each sport are in a different colour, making it easy for pupils to identify the right ones. This gives schools the ability to utilise the same space for three separate sports.

Playground markings can make your playground work for you much more effectively. They enable you to teach a wider range of sports without the need for extra space or for huge investment.

Equipping your new sports area

Of course, if you want to offer these sports, you will need to equip them. At ESP play, we provide the equipment, too. We supply netball and basketball nets and also a goal unit with combined football goal and shooting net – ideal for a multicourt and for general playground use. We even have a recessed goal unit. In addition, we also provide ball walls, which are ideal for cricket and for football practice.

Sport-friendly playground flooring

If you want to improve your playground design even more, you can always replace all or part of your existing playground surface with sport-friendly playground flooring. For example, you can install artificial grass together with your desired sports markings. This would provide you with a far superior playing surface that was good enough for interschool tournaments and safer for the children to play physical sports on.

Artificial grass surfacing also requires much less maintenance than a real grass pitch. There’s no mowing, no replanting and no mud. Once it is installed, it will stay in peak condition and with its hardwearing materials will last for years. Many of our clients have used artificial grass to convert part of their existing playground for sports use whilst still granting children access during break times.

Artificial grass is not the only solution for an improved playground sports surface. Wetpour surfacing is another popular choice for many schools. Made from recycled tyres, it is a long lasting, soft surface that’s highly effective in reducing injuries through falling. This makes it ideal for use on pitches and courts where physical sports are played. There certainly won’t be as many grazed knees or kids going home with holes in their trousers and tights as there would be on a tarmac surface.

The other benefit of a wetpour surface is that it can be coloured. So, you can colour it green to give it a more professional sports colour – or opt for something less traditional such as using your school’s colours. The choice is yours.

Conclusion

With playground markings, outdoor playground equipment and a range of safe and hardwearing playground surfaces to choose from, it is easier than ever to for schools with limited outdoor space to provide the facilities for a range of sports. It’s no longer necessary to find extra space to do this, you can simply convert your existing space and use it for both sporting activities and normal playground use.

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