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.

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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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Why Outdoor Play is Vital For Primary Pupils

Primary pupils

Primary pupils love to play outside and doing so benefits them in many ways. It improves health, wellbeing and even helps them do better in the classroom. It also encourages the development of the key personal and social skills which they will need throughout their lives. The children, of course, won’t be too interested in any of this: for them, playing out is all about fun, excitement and moments of pure joy. However, with little opportunity to play out at home, primary schools that provide children with a well-equipped playground are laying the foundations for a brighter future for their pupils. Here’s why.

Long-term health benefits

The rise in obesity and type 2 diabetes among primary pupils is a key indicator of the decline in physical activity undertaken by children in today’s society. By providing the time, space and equipment to participate in physical activity in the playground, schools can help them become healthier. They will burn calories, improve fitness, become stronger and benefit from all the good things that come from these. What’s more, when these opportunities are provided at an early age, it increases the chances that children will maintain healthy lifestyles into adulthood.

Encouraging children to become active in the playground can be done in many ways. Simply giving them space to run is a good start, but you can incentivise them even more by adding playground markings for games like football or netball or which get them to jump and hop. Climbing equipment is also great for getting kids active and there is a wide range available to suit pupils from nursery to year 6. Another way is to install an outdoor stage, play some music and get the children dancing. If it gets them moving, it is good for their health.

Contributes to mental wellbeing

Mental health is a major issue for the UK and those with mental disorders often have issues that have wide-ranging consequences. According to the latest NHS study, 12.2% of boys and 6.6% of girls aged between 5 and 10 suffer from a mental health disorder. Indeed, over 5% of pupils start school with a disorder and the numbers increase throughout primary and secondary education.

While outdoor play is not a panacea for mental health, it does have benefits. The Mental Health Foundation states that taking part in low-intensity, aerobic exercise for around 30 minutes a day is the best way to increase positive moods in primary aged children. This can help those with depression and anxiety cope with their disorder while preventing others from developing it.

The Daily Mile initiative, which encourages pupils to run, jog or walk for a mile each day is an excellent way to contribute to mental wellbeing. For schools that lack the space, then playground markings can offer the chance to take part in other aerobic activities.

Outdoor play leads to better learning

Outdoor play benefits learning in several ways. Simply having a break from the classroom and doing something fun can recharge the learning batteries and bring flagging concentration levels back to full steam. Doing something active during free time also gets the blood circulating, boosting brain power – a fact backed up by a University of British Columbia study which found regular aerobic exercise increases the size of the hippocampus, the part of the brain involved in learning.

What’s more, playing outdoors enables children to develop many of the transferable skills essential for learning, like resilience, problem-solving, collaboration and concentration. Equipment such as Trim Trails obstacle courses, which offer both physical and cognitive challenges, are ideal for developing these skills and are also tremendous fun to play on.

Outdoor play can also improve classroom behaviour, with research showing that participation in physical activities helps children to stay on task and be better behaved. That’s good news for the teacher as well as the children.

The sociable child

The complex skills of social interaction take a while to master and primary pupils need plenty of opportunities to practice them. This is difficult to achieve in a classroom where time is directed and the rules of engagement are imposed on them. In the playground, there is scope for wider interaction and more freedom to make mistakes.

Taking part in playground activities enables children to learn important social skills, like negotiating, accepting group decisions and taking turns, while also helping them to become more effective communicators. Over time, they will need to make friends, ask for help and resolve disputes, fine-tuning their interactions with skills like tact, empathy and assertiveness.

Playground equipment that invites children to play together, whether for sport, games, roleplay or in creative pursuits is vital so that these important social skills can be honed.

Conclusion

Outdoor play is vital for primary pupils, giving them opportunities to improve physical health and mental wellbeing and to learn and interact better. Given the time, space and the right equipment at this stage in their development can have long-lasting benefits.

For inspiration and information, take a look at our Products Page.

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Ideas for Teaching Literacy and Phonics in the Playground

The TES forums are full of teachers looking for new and innovative ways to teach literacy and phonics. If you are looking for inspiration, you should consider moving some of your lessons outdoors into the playground. With the space to move around and the freedom to make a bit more noise, numerous opportunities present themselves to take your teaching to a different level. Here, we’ll explain how.

literacy and phonics

Reading in the round

When children read or are being read to, they go on an adventure of the mind. You can enhance this journey on clement days by taking them outside, away from the familiarity of the classroom where their minds will be more open to the stories and characters they engage with.

You can do this just by taking the chairs outside or by sitting in a circle on a patch of grass. What would be better, however, is if you had a dedicated story-telling place to go to. Many schools have now created these, often using artificial grass surfacing topped with circular seating. Some even create magical areas with mushroom seats and story-telling chairs

These can be used for whole class or small group sessions and the circle makes it a great place not just for reading but for talking about the stories and the language the writer uses.

Develop literacy through roleplay

To develop their understanding of literacy, children need to explore how characters react to the situations they find themselves in and make predictions about what will happen as the plot develops. One of the best ways to do this is to use roleplay, with the children taking on the roles of the characters in the story.

This is more than just acting out the story. It is putting the characters in imaginary situations that they haven’t encountered in the plot. For example, imagine what Cinderella would say to her friends when she first discovered her father was getting married. How would this conversation change once her father had died and she was left with her stepmother and stepsisters?

A story-telling circle would be a great place for this to happen, with the children acting out in the middle. Alternatively, a small stage could be erected in the playground.

Letters and phonics games

Teaching letters and phonics can be a chore and children can struggle to learn them. It makes it so much easier, however, if this takes place as part of a game where the emphasis is on having fun and the learning is a natural by-product.

Teach a child to play snakes and ladders and they soon learn the values of the numbers on the dice. The same happens when you play letters and phonics games. Luckily, some of these are available as playground markings which can be played on not just in lesson time but during break and lunchtimes as well, where they can extend learning even further.

The letters and phonics markings include Phonic Spots, Footwork Vowels and the Letter Stepper, all of which are variations of hopscotch and similar playground games.

Outdoor mark-making

Mark-making is the first step towards learning to write and children need plenty of practice in order to develop both the dexterity of the hand and familiarity with trying to recreate the shapes. At such an early stage in their development, you don’t need to concentrate entirely on developing these skills with a pencil, any mark-making apparatus will do: board pens, crayons, paintbrushes and even fingers are all helpful.

Outside, children can practice mark-making in more ways than indoors. They can paint and draw on large upright whiteboards or chalk on blackboards where they are using their hands at different angles and creating marks of different sizes, they can even recreate letters by drawing in the sand using a sandbox.

Of course, with so much variety, it is possible to get the children to experiment with different types of mark-making equipment and techniques, helping them to master skills quicker and keeping them engaged with activities.

Vocabulary charades

Charades has been a popular party game for centuries and will be familiar to many children either in its original form or in one of the many modern reinterpretations, such as Rapidough or Pictionary. Its value for teaching literacy comes in its ability to get children to think about the meaning of a word and how to communicate that to other children.

Vocabulary charades, where you give a child a word and they have to act it out to their peers, is a fun way to teach literacy and works well in an outdoor environment, such as in the story-circle. This can be enhanced by getting the children to do improvised roleplay after playing charades, during which they have to use the vocabulary you’ve been learning as often as they can.

Conclusion

With games to play, equipment to experiment with, space to explore and less concern over keeping quiet, the playground can be an inspirational learning space for children. This makes it ideal, when the weather’s fine, as a place for teaching literacy and phonics. Hopefully, you’ll find the ideas we mentioned here useful.

For more information take a look at our Outdoor English Curriculum page.

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