Outdoor Learning and Play
Making Your Playground More Fun- How to Create a Fun Informal Learning Environment!
What makes a good Primary school playground? Never underestimate the importance of fun!
There was a time, not too many moons ago, when two young friends would disappear for most of the weekend to play in the woodland near where they lived.
They turned it into a playground for themselves and the other local children who would turn up to see what was going on - building dens and tree swings, staging battles and bear hunts, finding intrigue and excitement (and incurring a few bumps and grazes as evidence!) in their own, magical place to play.
Fast forward to now, and they’ve held on to that same sense of imaginative fun and adventure to build their playgrounds for over 10,000 schools and nurseries around the UK, improving educational play value for around 500,000 children each year.
So what’s their secret? What can you do to make your school playground a fun and informal learning environment for children to play and learn?
Well, we have a few ideas to share with you that will help to keep the ‘play’ in playground...
To truly harness the fun factor in your school playground, you need an element of narrative - every playground should be able to tell stories.
Mix this in with enough scope for adventure and exploration, and dare we say it, a little sense of danger - and you have the perfect recipe for fun!
We should add here that of course playground safety is vitally important - but there is plenty that can be done to make sure it doesn’t get in the way of proper fun.
Learning how to manage risk is an essential part of a child’s psychological development - an important part of growing up. Play is a great tool for this.
Children need space to experience risks in different forms, albeit in a safe environment, to learn how to adapt to the world around them and to get back up when they fall.
A playground that has fun at its heart will naturally present opportunities for children to assess and manage risk, and a whole host of other things besides!
It’ll promote creative thinking and independent play, boost positive behaviours, improve their wellbeing, and open up all kinds of wonderful opportunities for children’s learning and development...
Variety is the Spice of Life!
Children love to make their own choices - and a playground with a variety of activities to choose from is an essential starting point for a more adventurous experience.
This might seem obvious, but the trick is to get the balance right. Variety doesn’t mean that the playground should be over-packed, choc-full of all sorts - aside from the unnecessary cost, this can be overwhelming, over-stimulating and ultimately result in less actual play happening, not least because of the lack of space left to do it!
Invest in a selection of high quality, open-ended and multi-functional play resources suitable for the space (mud kitchens, interactive water walls and den spaces are prime examples) and they never tire. Fuel for the imagination = unlimited fun! This is especially relevant if your budget is tight - a few well chosen pieces as opposed to lots of single-purpose stuff leads to much more fun-filled variety, and you’ll get more than your money’s worth out of it.
Whatever your playground space, you can split things two ways to ensure variety, with:
Designated space for less structured, sensory and nature play (e.g. dig pits, construction activities, gardening).
Boost variety in the playground by setting out different zones that children can move around to.
Think about which activities sit best where, and create clear contrast between calmer spaces and more active and energetic spaces.
This will help younger children to differentiate between the types of play they can enjoy in a specific area - and being able to pick out a zone according to their interests is part of the fun! Be imaginative with this and so will they - theming different zones creatively, using their ideas as well, is really exciting for them.
Screening and planters are perfect for breaking up larger spaces. Fill planters with sensory delights - colourful plants that catch the eye with different scents and textures across the seasons.
Nature is uplifting, and the children will love to be involved with this - give them the tools and let them have fun doing the planting and watering themselves!
Take to the Floor!
All-weather playground surfacing is a must-have if you want them to be able to get outside and have fun all year round!
It’s brilliant from a natural-play perspective if you have a green grassy space that can be used too, but this isn’t always the case.
A boggy field spends most of the year empty and inaccessible, and tired old grey concrete is no fun for anyone!
Open up your school grounds and bring play to life by resurfacing inaccessible areas with practical playground surfacing alternatives.
Wetpour is a great example. It’s an impact-absorbing safety surface that cushions and supports children’s movement as they run around and climb.
It can be laid in contrasting colours and fun designs, becoming an integral part of their play all year round.
Deep green, natural-looking Playturf is soft and tactile to play on, and has beautiful visual appeal.
It’s easy to transform empty spaces with entertaining playground markings that inspire imaginative games and physical activity, and promote social skills with turn-taking and team play.
Sports lines and floor-based games, activity trails and even roadway tracks for wheeled vehicles - there are so many options available for any playground and you don’t necessarily have to resurface the area to do this.
Thermoplastic playground markings can usually be laid straight onto existing tarmac.
This Site is Under Construction!
A standout space in all the best playgrounds is one of the easiest to create - a good old fix of digging in the construction zone!
Mucking around with mud and sand? Children couldn’t be happier!
Playing with buckets, spades and scoops, with trucks and small world toys, mixing up mud pies, measuring, pouring and scattering sand, digging for ‘treasure’ and getting their hands into all the different textures - it’s endless hours of inventive fun and there’s plenty of scope for dressing up in hard hats and hi-vis!
The bigger the space the better, in the sense that you can have groups of children enjoying collaborative play together - they’ll get so much out of this socially and developmentally.
Expand your construction zone with a ‘playground junkyard’ - loosely organised space where children can get arty and creative building structures and sculptures with wood, blocks, tools, scrap paper and cardboard ‘rubbish’ etc.
This can be on the floor or with the support of a construction table for better access and storage.
A playground rope and pulley system is a brilliant idea for a ‘heavy work’ construction zone - children can have so much fun working the mechanisms and sending materials up and down to their fellow workers!
Don’t be Afraid to Get Wet!
Fun flows with water play. It’s a fact.
From a simple water table to an all-out water wall with channels to build and team challenges to conquer - a splashing journey of discovery is all part of the fun and children just love it.
Bring out the jugs, bowls, buckets, cups, funnels and sieves, and let them do the talking!
Space to Let Off Steam
For children, the playground is THE place for them to get active and let off steam.
They need time and space to run in the fresh air, climbing, using their whole body to exercise and ‘let it all out,’ - and they need to be able to have fun with it! For many children the school playground might be one of the few places they have an opportunity to do this regularly, and especially outdoors during daylight hours.
So many of the schools we work with have told us how they’ve noticed a marked improvement in children’s behavior, from the moment they’ve been given access to more exciting and challenging spaces to climb constructively, and to use their imaginations through physical play.
One of the great things about a good playframe or trim trail is that aside from being fantastically fun to climb on, their height and open-ended structures can accommodate larger groups of children getting active in a given space at any one time.
This is ideal for schools looking to maximise the space available with a multi-functional resource for play and PE.
Storytelling and Themed Play
Who doesn’t love to share a story?! One of the best places to enjoy a good book is the great outdoors, and the playground can make learning to read an incredibly enjoyable experience for children.
You can expand on this with special spaces to act out their favourite stories and enjoy role play games. Perhaps a playhouse or playden for role play games, or setting up a playground theatre for stellar performances. Children have amazing imaginations - give them an outlet and they’ll fly with it!
If you really want to go to town with this, inspire them with themed playground equipment, such as a playship, to set the scene for adventure.
It’s a fabulously fun way for children to invent their stories on the move - staying active and exploring new ideas all the time.
How much fun can be had in a hidey-hole! There’s nothing quite like a secret den for sparking their imaginations and offering hours of fun.
Den building is fantastic for children’s creativity and problem-solving skills, and it’s a physical effort that builds their strength and coordination too.
Look close and there’s always a space somewhere in the playground where they can build their little structures!
They can be as inventive as they like with cardboard boxes, blankets, and somewhere to hang sheets or secure their string fixings.
For out-of-this-world adventures, nothing quite beats a playground treehouse with so much to do all in one space!
Finding Wild Friends...
Natural play is hugely important for wellbeing, connecting with nature and learning about the world around us.
Children love to explore flora and fauna, and the school playground can be home to way more minibeasts than you might imagine - there are over 25,000 species in Britain!
Why not make a home for them? A bug hotel invites welcome guests for children to discover and inspect - and it’s much more fun experiencing and learning about them, up close and personal!
Not So Childish Ideas...
Before you begin - it’s always worth asking the children what they want to see in their playground.
It sounds so obvious when you say it, but when we’ve worked on playground projects where the children are involved in the creative process, it’s been so exciting for them, and marvellous to see how much they get out of it!
Get inside their heads to find out what they think is fun. Amongst the wild, weird and wonderful suggestions there are usually more than a few doable ones to capture the imagination, and bring them real joy when they see their ideas come into being.
Would you like us to help you find the fun in your school playground? We would love to!
We are the UK’s Number 1 Playground Provider, and you can view our full range of fabulous outdoor learning and play products HERE. Please do Contact Us to book a free consultation with one of our playground experts.
NEW! Now you can visit our New Online Shop, where you can purchase a selection of our products that don’t require a professional on-site installation, to be delivered directly to your school!