The Importance of Investing in and Developing School Playgrounds
Providing children with opportunities for play is extremely important. Play allows pupils to freely express themselves and their feelings, children gain confidence when dealing with different environments and they make discoveries that we as teachers cannot possibly plan for.
During the past 25 years, Pentagon Play have partnered with over 15,000 schools establishing safe yet effective outdoor playspaces where children can engage freely in active learning experiences.
Our expert team have the knowledge to create playspaces which promote exploration, physical activity and positive social interactions. We carefully analyse available space, consider patterns of movement and select the correct equipment to match learners needs. Creating the best playground to suit a particular space can have huge rewards for a school.
Why do we need School Playgrounds?
Nineteenth- century educationalists such as Wilderspin and Froebel ensured that the provision of a playground or schoolyard in primary schools in England and Wales had become ‘normal’ by the mid 1850’s and I believe it would be rare to find a primary school in the UK today that does not have a playground/outdoor space.
Most of us have vivid memories of playground activities which can stay with us for a lifetime. Traditional play during breaktimes can impact educational development across the primary curriculum. Playtime games can aid the development of basic knowledge and skills in curriculum subjects as well as memory skills, communication, hand-eye coordination and physical dexterity.
Traditional Playtime Games
Traditional playground games tend to involve rich and varied use of language and with oracy now being placed at the forefront of the English National Curriculum, playgrounds are vital for daily speech and interaction. A school playground is a place for verbal exchanges between adults and children, often in a playful tone. Speech can take the form of repetition, reinforcement and pattern.
I can certainly remember chanting tongue twisters, taking part in clapping games such as ‘A Sailor went to Sea, Sea, Sea' and chanting rhymes such as:
We all scream
For Ice Cream.’
Rhythm, repetition, alliteration and assonance can all be found in children’s playground speech which are the essential skills of poetry and storytelling. Traditional playground games and enjoyable interactions help young children to gain knowledge and skills to use language in all its rich variety.
Young children learn best by playing because they can actively explore, discover, try things out and practise new skills. Practitioners can support children’s natural desire to play encouraging them to wonder and discover, building upon an ever-increasing knowledge base.
When you observe a child playing outdoors you often notice feelings of excitement and enjoyment. Play is often self-directed and pupils can engage freely and spontaneously, remaining engaged for long periods of time. Play can provide children with the right level of active challenge, holding attention without providing strong feelings of frustration. Imaginations are often most active during outdoor play where objects can take on new meanings: grass, mud and seeds become treasures and ingredients.
When children step into the playground they want to feel a sense of mystery and adventure, they want to push and test themselves, yet they also need to feel a sense of security and protection. It is important to offer some choices. A playground needs places where children can socialise with each other and also spaces for relaxation and quiet solitude. Children thrive in a playground environment which provides a range of experiences. Pentagon Play are experts at creating different learning zones providing a balance of opportunities.
When working in collaboration with schools, Pentagon Play strive to give children some control over their playground space. If pupils can make some decisions, look after their grounds and personalise their choices a sense of pride and citizenship develops. As learners feel like they are making a positive contribution to school life and decision making, self-esteem can grow.
School Playground Expectations
The Department for Education – Development Matters document (2023) offers guidance for Early Years Education. The guidance states that ‘a well-planned learning environment, indoors and outdoors, is an important aspect of pedagogy.’ Pentagon Play can help to create an outdoor space which reflects key values and philosophy. Each individual school will have a vision for their playground whether it be to create a space for children to release energy, to encourage collaborative play, promote language skills or to prioritise problem solving.
The document also states that practitioners should, ‘encourage positive interaction with the outside world, offering children a chance to take supported risks, appropriate to themselves and the environment within which they are in.’ Playgrounds provide children with a change from the indoor classroom. Often children can roam freely, select their activity, make noise and test their physical skills.
A school playground should continually engage children in activities that physically and mentally challenge their abilities and allow them to take some risks. A Pentagon Playground will always ensure that products are age and size appropriate. Our fantastic impact-absorbing safety surfacing options including Artificial Grass cushions areas surrounding play equipment allowing children to feel comfortable and safe.
By providing children with challenging playground obstacles this can actually reduce the number of serious playground accidents as children naturally become risk aware and learn to manage the potential risks they face.
Development Matters curriculum guidance urges schools to ‘offer children many different experiences and opportunities to play freely and to explore and investigate. Make time and space for children to become deeply involved in imaginative play, indoors and outdoors.’
Outdoor play can allow children to take the lead. Practitioners can look for opportunities to extend children’s play, comment on conversational leads and encourage pupils to explore answering their own questions.
A Selection of Popular Playtime Products
One issue that I have observed when visiting schools is that football tends to dominate the playground, often with more than one game happening in the same space at the same time! Pupils tend to spread out when playing football, more than half of the hard surface area of a playground can be occupied by football games and usually less than a quarter of the school population are playing the game.
Football is a fast-moving activity which can make movement around the playground hazardous. Boundary lines painted onto the floor or the use of plastic cones may be a short-term fix as play usually extends beyond the lines, spreading and taking over all of the available space. Some pupils want to play chase games or may choose to play with playground equipment such as hoops, beanbags and skipping ropes. In my experience these different forms of play tend to overlap the same space which can lead to minor accidents and arguments. Some pupils can feel squeezed into a smaller space, unable to choose their desired activity.
A Pentagon Play Multi Use Games Area (MUGA) creates a boundary with the presence of rigid mesh fencing. Fencing actually stops the ball, containing the movement of the game and enables play to continue without disturbances. Schools can decide where and how big the game area in the playground should be. A MUGA is also a fantastic space for Physical Education lessons and can help to encourage children to try new sports.
Taking Away the Walls
When we take away the classroom walls children tend to have a much larger area to explore. The playground is a place for discovery within nature. Pupils can observe birds flying overhead, watch their breath on cold days, follow the ladybirds and sit under the shade of a tree. The changing natural environment allows children to experience falling leaves, frost, flowers blooming and the force of strong winds.
Sand, grass, mud, trees and plants play an important role in outdoor spaces, helping children to learn about and respect the natural world around them. I feel it is important to encourage children’s active exploration of the natural environment, particular in schools located within urban areas.
A Pentagon Mud Kitchen is an essential playground product which encourages children to dig, make mud pies and create their own recipes and imagined worlds.
A Mud Kitchen is a welcome addition to any school playground, allowing children to experience nature in meaningful and direct ways. If space is an issue, Pentagon offer a variety of Mud Kitchens with different features and to suit different budgets. Each product promotes creativity and curiosity whilst promoting plenty of movement. Pupils will walk, bend and stetch as they gather materials which they will the learn to manipulate building hand-eye coordination and fine motor skills.
Physical Playground Play
An outdoor playground space offers children freedom of movement and greater physical challenges than an indoor space can provide. When schools champion outdoor play, they are allowing children to enjoy a range of movements and helping pupils to develop healthy, lifelong habits.
Playground spaces encourage children to experiment with their bodies and practice important physical skills. Pentagon’s range of playframes ensure children can experiment with different heights, they accommodate groups of children of varying ages and therefore play never becomes predictable.
The open-ended nature of the playframe range provides children with plenty of opportunities to use their imaginations and satisfies their curiosity.
A large climbing structure such as the impressive Grizedale Forest Circuit is often the focal point of the playground. This climber includes numerous features such as: climbing walls, a tunnel, a tightrope, swinging logs and scramble nets. Pupils of various abilities can access different levels, finding their own ways of safely moving up and down the structure. This circuit supports children’s upper and lower body development. Balancing skills are strengthened as children learn to hold themselves and travel without falling.
Ever increasingly, schools are recognising the potential of their playground spaces. A school playground should be a place where children want to be. Pupils need to feel happy, healthy and free to play with friends.
An attractive, welcoming playground that has been designed to suit the needs and interests of pupils can make a huge difference to learning. Improving a school playground may not happen all at once, schools may have a long-term plan which will see a playground develop over time. Pentagon Play are here to help you to discover the kinds of experiences you want pupils to have and work out the best options for making purposeful change.