Pentagon Play’s Top Tips for Better Playtimes
As the UK’s Number 1 School Playground Specialist, we’ve seen a fair few things when it comes to playtimes.
Since 1998, we’ve been creating stimulating and challenging outdoor environments for children - designing, crafting and installing outstanding playground products for outdoor learning, play and sports in schools and nurseries across the UK.
We have plenty of inspiration and ideas to help you to make outdoor learning and play time as effective as possible all year round, so with that in mind, here are our top tips for you to try at your school:
1. Step Back to Step Forward
Sometimes you need to take a step back and really look again at the space you are using. Are you making the most of what you have available? It’s amazing what you can do with small forgotten corners - they can be transformed into wonderful outdoor learning spaces with some simple new ideas and the right tools.
What about a Den Building area? A Storytelling Corner? Or a Secret Sensory Nature Garden where children can plant some herbs and flowers and learn all about the minibeasts that come to visit?
Look around your school and question the way that the space is used. Could you make any changes for the better? Look at fencing and equipment - is it all necessary? Is it still fit for purpose? What needs to happen so that children can play there more and enjoy enriching outdoor-learning experiences?
Often the best ideas come from the children themselves and their wonderful imaginations. If you’re planning to make some changes, ask the children what they think.
What do they want from their playtimes? What would they like to be able to do outside? Of course, some of their ideas will be more realistic than others, but there’s nothing wrong with dreaming big and it’s a great place to start!
2. Whether the Weather...
Rain or shine, there really is no such thing as bad weather when you think about all the different opportunities for play and learning that the changing weather conditions can bring. There is plenty that you can do to make sure that rain doesn’t stop play,and it’s simply a case of being prepared for it so that it’s easy to manage.
Having a Canopy installed against your school building not only provides you with buckets of additional space for teaching such as break-out spaces, a sheltered spot for messy play or outdoor reading - it means that your pupils can always go straight outside for some fresh air even if it’s pouring down. It’s a great place to set up a weather-watch!
The type of Playground Surfacing that you have makes a huge difference, too. Grassy fields have their place, but in reality, they’re out of commission for most of the year if they become wet and muddy.
Even if you don’t want to resurface your entire playground, just having a section of all-weather surfacing such as our beautiful Playturf Artificial Grass, or one of our bright and engaging interactive Wetpour Safety Surfacing designs, means that there’s always an area of your playground that your children use throughout the year.
We install our surfacing to be self-draining and extremely low maintenance to make sure that access to your outdoor learning environment is always easy.
Appropriate clothing is key - it may sound obvious, but it’s often the biggest obstacle to going outside. We firmly believe that clothes should always meet the needs of childhood and not the other way round, so do whatever you can to make sure they have access to the clothing and footwear they need to be able to play outside at different times of the year.
A Mobile Coat Rack or Welly Rack placed by the door can come in really handy. This leads us to our next tip...
3. Supportive Parents
For children to enjoy better playtimes, getting parents on board can really help.
A paragraph in a school newsletter about the importance of outdoor play and school policy can be a useful reminder that sometimes, coming home with muddy hands or knees really is a good thing and doesn’t warrant a complaint!
Ask parents to send children into school dressed appropriately for the weather. “Welly banks” and second-hand sales or donations of coats/waterproofs that older children have outgrown can be a really cost-effective way of making sure that all children have access to the clothes they need for outdoor play.
4. Variety is the Spice of Life
Does your playground offer variety? Do pupils have choices? Is it open to everyone regardless of their ability? Is your provision open-ended, so that children can be creative and make their own choices as to how they use it, or is it prescriptive and restrictive?
If you only have a few pieces of equipment and too many rules as to how and when they can be used, then the likelihood is that your playtimes aren’t inclusive, that children will not be using their imaginations, and honestly, it’s not really play.
The key is to find a balance between investing in some good quality, open-ended play equipment that children and teachers alike can get maximum use from and making the most of other more random resources that you can get hold of - cardboard boxes, old clothes for dressing up, pots and pans, cloth and blankets, ribbon, chalk and so on.
STEAM learning resources that involve Sand, Mud and Water Play are a playground essential, along with ever-important opportunities to climb and get physically active.
Variety is never just about resources - more importantly, it’s about people too. The best playtimes are the ones where everyone is included, regardless of their ability.
For your playtimes to be truly inclusive, your playground needs to offer a mixture of equipment and resources that serves different purposes and suits different needs - meaning that everyone of all abilities can interact and play together.
Our range of specialist Playground Equipment For Children With Special Education Needs is designed to be installed in any playground setting, offering schools the opportunity to transform their playground into a truly inclusive play and learning environment.
5. Designate a Quiet Space
Because everyone needs it at some point! Children are busy and sometimes they get overwhelmed, worn out, or they just need somewhere they can go for a rest, relaxation and a bit of peace and quiet away from the buzz of the playground.
An Outdoor Classroom or Gazebo can be the perfect solution for this. Make the most of nature and set one up in a wooded area or under a tree if you have one.
We can bespoke our outdoor classroom options to include built-in planters to help you create a relaxing green, sensory space - perfect for conversation and social interaction as much as a calm space or a space to take outdoor learning.
If you make clever use of the space to install some Playground Seating options, you can designate some of this as a Quiet Zone, too. We have seen some schools setting up a “Buddy Bench” system: where a child can go and sit if they have nobody to play with and they’re feeling left out.
The idea is that if you see someone sitting on the Buddy Bench, you should go over to them and say hello. You never know, you might make a lovely, new friend!
We love this idea and our Walk and Talk Seating Circle is an example of an inviting product that’s really well suited to it.
6. Relish a Risk
Include opportunities for “risky play” in your playground wherever you can. Chances are it’s one of the few places where children will actually be allowed to safely learn how to assess and manage risk for themselves - and this is so important if they are going to grow into independent young people who can make their own choices and look after themselves.
If you’re wondering where to start, a good climbing frame, with flexible entry and exit points so that children can build confidence in their own time, is ideal.
We have designed a range of log and rope Climbing Frames with varying degrees of challenge - from smaller entry-level EYFS climbers right through to our all-singing mega climbers to keep even the most brave, bold and agile Year 6 pupils engaged!
Climbing, den-building, channelling a flow of water without spilling any, or putting their hands into a messy Mud-Box for the first time - they all hold an element of risk and excitement that make playtimes so much more valuable as a learning experience, and so much more fun.
7. Finding the Funding
Never get stuck thinking about what your school can’t afford for the playground. There are all sorts of grants out there that your school could be eligible for, and we can point you in the right direction - just ask us. PTA fundraising can be a great way to help get hold of any additional funds that you might need to bridge the gap, too.
Would you like to talk to us about exciting new playground ideas? Are you looking for more inspiration? We’d be delighted to come and visit your school or nursery for a free, no-obligation playground consultation. You can Contact Us.