Zoned school playgrounds have become increasingly popular in modern playground design, providing a range of benefits for pupils and schools alike. However, following the lockdown, they have taken on new importance, providing enhanced social distancing and increased safety. Here, we’ll look at zoned playgrounds and their advantages over traditional schoolyards.
What are zoned school playgrounds?
A zoned playground, quite simply, is a school playground where the equipment provided for the children is laid out in discrete activity areas, strategically placed to improve safety and enhance amenity.
Zones can be created for different types of pupil or activity. So, for example, a school can have different zones for EYFS, KS1 and KS2 pupils, each with age-appropriate equipment, or it can create separate zones for sports, climbing, roleplay, creativity, nature, sensory play and so forth.
One of the key problems with traditional playgrounds is that activities often overlap and this can lead to potential safety issues, such as footballs flying off the pitch and knocking a pupil off a climbing wall or a pupil with skipping ropes tripping up someone playing tig in the same area. By putting these activities into separate zones, you reduce the risk of these accidents happening – especially when the designer can make sure that potentially hazardous zones are located away from each other.
With the need to maintain social distancing in the playground, zoned play areas have developed new importance, as they enable the school to better manage pupil bubbles. Children in different bubbles can be allocated a different zone in which to play and because it is within a defined area, children will better understand the limits of where they can play and the apparatus they are allowed to play on. This also makes the job of supervising much easier for staff and enables pupils from each bubble to enter and leave the playground more safely.
To ensure pupils get to participate in the full range of playground activities on offer, schools can rotate the bubbles from zone to zone on different days, making sure, of course, that the equipment is properly cleaned at the end of each day. Where there are staggered playtimes, cleaning will need to take place between the change-over.
The other advantage is that popular apparatus, such as climbing frames, obstacle courses and play towers, can be a temptation too much for children. If everyone heads for the same piece of equipment, social distancing goes out the window. Zoning prevents this happening, as children will know which zone they are allocated to and, if rotation is in place, will know they’ll get their turn eventually.
Zones for inclusion
One of the other major benefits of having a zoned school playground is that it can improve inclusivity. At the design stage, schools have the ability to consider the type of equipment they need to ensure pupils of all ages, abilities and interests are catered for. The playground designer can then use this to create purpose-built zones that address those needs and place them in the most appropriate location. For example, a quiet area can be developed for children with autism and placed away from the louder and busier activity zones, perhaps even with its own entrance back into the school building. Sensory areas can be created too, giving pupils a calm space in which to experience a variety of sounds, smells, textures and colours.
Similarly, sporty kids can be given zones with pitch markings and basketball nets and thrill-seekers can have zones containing Trim Trails obstacle courses, Tangled rope climbing equipment or a Freeflow climbing system. You can have messy play areas with mud kitchens, sandpits and magnetic water walls, imaginative roleplay zones with fantasy play towers, wigwams and pirate style playboats and creative zones with outdoor drawing boards, performance stages and outdoor musical percussion instruments.
For the more laid back pupils, you can even create a nature zone with planters, trellises and bug houses and furnish it with picnic tables, an octagonal shelter or some all-weather artificial grass to sit on and chat with friends.
Not only does zoning enable schools to cater for all these different needs and interests; it also allows the designer to make them more accessible. Safe pathways can be created to ensure all pupils, including wheelchair users, can easily get to all the apparatus without having to risk travelling through a busy space; while accessibility features can be built in so pupils, even if they cannot fully participate in activities or make full use of the equipment, are close enough not to feel socially excluded from their friendship group.
Zoned school playgrounds can transform a school’s outdoor space. They improve safety, assist with social distancing and provide schools with the opportunity to create accessible zones that cater for the needs and interests of all pupils.
To see what you can achieve with a zoned playground or to find out more about playground design, visit our Inspiration page.