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.


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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