A playground that stimulates all the senses can play an important role in child development. It enhances sensory awareness, encourages social interaction and supports cognitive and emotional growth through play. In this post, we provide some important tips for schools that are looking to create a sensory school playground or sensory play zone.
Incorporate different textures
Texture is a key element in sensory development as it improves motor skills and provides a range of tactile experiences that are essential for cognitive and physical development. A playground that includes various textures can also be very beneficial for those with sensory processing challenges.
Incorporating textures can be done in many ways. Surfaces such as rubber mulch, artificial grass and wet pour surfacing not only make a playground safer but also offer a range of different sensory experiences. Similarly, equipment made from natural materials like wood, or which make use of water, sand and fabric can help children broaden their knowledge of shape, solidity, smoothness, hardness, plasticity and temperature.
Add sound elements
Adding sound elements to a playground can dramatically enhance pupils’ sensory experiences. Outdoor musical instruments, such as chimes and drainpipe drums, rain wheels, washboards and xylophones allow children to explore different sounds, rhythms, tempos and volumes. You can also add wind chimes, water features, bells and other noise-making elements to enrich the soundscape in which the children play. This not only assists with auditory development but also encourages musical creativity.
Make it smell
The sense of smell is often overlooked in playground design, yet it is a powerful tool for sensory exploration. Incorporating elements like scented gardens and herb planters can enhance children’s sensory experiences by introducing them to a variety of natural scents. This not only aids in olfactory development but also adds an educational component to the playground as pupils get to recognise different plants by their unique smells.
Add visual stimuli
Sensory playgrounds should also be visually exciting places for children to experience. This can be achieved in a multitude of different ways, such as adding colourful playground markings, spider’s web inspired rope play equipment, patterned and brightly coloured surfacing and murals. Such features not only make the playground more attractive but also play a crucial role in sharpening children’s visual awareness of colour, shape, pattern and contrast.
Install interactive features
Interactive features, like body-warping mirrors, water walls, mud kitchens and sand pits offer highly engaging and fun ways to explore the senses of sight and touch. Children can experience visual effects, temperatures, textures and consistency with their eyes and hands, making them an excellent addition to any sensory playground.
Creating a nature zone in your playground can really enhance the sensory experiences available to your pupils. Brightly coloured and aromatic plants, water features and wooden structures can stimulate multiple senses and make the play environment more engaging. These areas are also great for attracting wildlife, like birds and insects, which also adds visual excitement. ESP Play’s Nature & Garden range is ideal for schools looking to enrich their playgrounds with natural features.
Give the sense of movement
While not one of the traditional five senses, movement is a physical sensation that children experience, and it can be important in helping them develop balance and coordination. Installing equipment that encourages physical movement, like wobbly bridges, balance beams, rope climbing structures and trim trails obstacle courses can improve children’s perception of their body position and movement.
Make it inclusive
An inclusive playground ensures that every child, regardless of their abilities, can fully participate in, enjoy and benefit from sensory play experiences. Indeed, as sensory play can be highly beneficial for children with special needs, it is important that these pupils are given full consideration when designing and creating such a space. A sensory tunnel, see image above, is an ideal feature for bringing inclusivity to the playground.
Create quiet areas
Quiet and calming areas are key components of a sensory playground. These spaces provide a retreat for children who might feel overwhelmed by sensory stimulation or who simply need a break from active play. Ideally, you should create areas with comfortable seating and a peaceful atmosphere, away from the hustle and bustle.
Creating a sensory school playground brings a range of important benefits for pupils of all ages. By incorporating different textures, sounds, smells, movements and visual experiences, as well as adding garden areas, it is possible to provide a space that stimulates all of the senses. However, schools must also ensure the space is designed to be inclusive and accessible, and that quiet areas are provided for children who might need a break from the stimulation.
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