The big disadvantage of having long summer holidays is that much of the school year covers autumn and winter when its wet, windy and cold. When it comes to break times and lunchtimes, bad weather can bring misery to staff and students. However, while we cannot control the seasons, there are things that schools can do make their playgrounds winter friendly. Here we’ll look at the issues and offer some useful solutions.
The problem with winter
From October to March, lunch and break times can be a problem for schools. If its chilly, children are often turfed out into the playground where they huddle like penguins, seeking shelter from the cold wind. When it's raining, the newly seeded grass gets turned into a quagmire and the whole school gets covered in a layer of soil and dust. Then the miserably damp children come back in, steaming up the windows and complaining about being wet. Perhaps worst of all are the times when outdoor play is cancelled and both the children and the teachers are trapped in their classrooms. On days like these, the kids are hyper, behaviour is poor and even the staff get irritable. When this happens, teaching and learning is a struggle.
There are other disadvantages, too. Children do not get the benefit of exercise when they are hunched over from the cold; and when they get kept in, they miss out on the natural daylight they can get exposed to and the vitamin D it produces. All this can have a negative effect on their physical and mental wellbeing.
Making playgrounds more winter friendly
While there is no way to fully protect your playground from the elements, there are quite a few things you can do which will make it a better place for your students and increase the number of days that you can let them out to play.
Provide them with shelter
Providing pupils with protection from the rain and the worst of the wind can help reduce the number of days you need to keep them indoors and help make them more comfortable while they are outside.
You are not going to need shelter for every child as there are always going to be those who’ll be happy playing out regardless of whether it’s a heatwave or a force nine gale. However, for those who spend their winter breaktimes wandering along corridors, hiding in doorways or loitering by the toilets, a covered shelter can be a game changer. A great example is our octagonal shelter with solid sides, decking and seating. While it still gives exposure to the fresh air, it keeps the rain off and provides some protection from the cold and wind while giving children somewhere to sit, chat and even move about.
Other alternatives include shaded pergolas with seating and planters, pitched-roofed shelters, sail shade shelters and play huts.
The simplest way to stop pupils getting cold outside is to get them moving. Inspiring children to participate in physical activity during the coldest days will help them build up body heat and keep warm. The more physical they are, the warmer they’ll become.
There are many activities that can be used to do this, but perhaps the best are sports and games. If your playground is lacking inspiration, then an affordable and quick solution can be to install a range of playground markings. Sports markings for football, netball and basketball, for example, are great ways to get large groups of children running around and keeping warm. You can complement these with a selection of fun and games markings that small groups can use to play together. With everything from roadway markings to hopscotch, there are lots of ideas to choose from. Of course, if you have a bigger budget available, you can provide a much wider selection of activities using trim trail obstacle courses, climbing frames, play towers and climbing walls.
The other big advantage besides keeping the children warm when outside, is that you are encouraging them to remain active at a time of year when they perhaps get the least chance to do so.
Keeping things clean
Wet weather invariably means mud and dirt getting everywhere. Children’s uniforms get caked in it and those highly polished school corridors get covered with a layer of dull, brownish silt by the end of the day. And as everyone who works in a school knows, it’s silt that loves to smear itself over clothing: cross your legs, sit on the floor, drop your coat – you get covered in it.
The main cause of mud coming into school is wet soil that sticks to the soles of shoes – particularly those with grip marks where the soil doesn’t get wiped off.
The ideal solution to prevent soil coming into schools is to replace your grassed playing areas with artificial grass. Doing this has several benefits: surfaces don’t get muddy, so you can use them all year round and children don’t bring the mud into school. Nor do they get covered in it if they slip. There’s no need to have the grass regularly mowed and reseeded either.
If your budget doesn’t extend to artificial grass, or you just prefer real grass, then another alternative would be to use grass matting, which is a safe and durable way to protect grass from erosion due to heavy use and which prevents contact with the actual soil underneath.
If you are looking for ways to make your playground more winter friendly for your pupils, hopefully, the suggestions given here can help. With shelters to protect them from the elements, a selection of playground markings or activity equipment to get them warmed up and cleaner surfaces to play on, you’ll be able to make break and lunchtimes more fun and increase the number of days your pupils get the chance to play outside.