Playground design ideas to optimise outdoor learning

Playground design ideas to optimise outdoor learning
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The right playground design can be crucial to the development of an outdoor learning programme which engages all students.
Spaces away from traditional classroom environments have been shown to be highly effective in breaking down barriers to learning and delivering positive educational experiences.
From early years right through the education journey, outdoor learning can be incorporated into a wide range of subjects and learning outcomes.
Having a playground space to support learning and play all year round can only enhance the impact of outdoor activities.

Benefits to learning outdoors

There are many benefits to learning outdoors ranging from improved physical health, to encouraging emotional development and providing essential skills.
Outdoor learning is an inclusive way to reach out to all students, including those who do not respond positively to conventional teaching methods.

Being outdoors allows young people to connect with their surroundings and each other, supporting social integration and understanding among peer groups.
Being in the open air is a fantastic way to boost the senses with studies showing that nature helps to restore mental energy while also increasing motivation. In a learning environment, better behaviour and improved attention have also been reported as benefits of taking sessions outside. 
Spending time outside is also shown to reduce symptoms of stress and anxiety.
Learning outdoors is a really fun way to explore and explain different issues and subjects.
Traditional subjects such as science, maths and literacy can all be transferred to outdoor classroom locations and hands-on activities such as forest school events encourage children to be more curious about the world around them while taking part in physical exercise.

Steps to create an outdoor learning environment

At Hand Made Places we create playgrounds for learning and fun. Our spaces support teacher-led games and activities as well as free play, transforming the outdoors into places where young people can connect.
We work with our clients to deliver their vision for inclusive playgrounds. Follow our tips for outdoor classroom design for effective learning spaces.

Scope out a suitable location

Safety is at the heart of our playground design so choosing the right location for an outdoor classroom is essential.
Our experienced designers visit sites across the UK to discuss development options including the best ways to incorporate natural features, how to deliver play value and how to maximise the potential of awkward sized or shaped spaces.

Designing outdoor learning spaces considers details such as visibility, access arrangements, proximity to facilities such as toilets and the removal of potential hazards.

Ideas for outdoor learning environment may include natural elements for students to explore while ensuring the outdoor classroom space is an integral part of the school community may also be a priority.

The right space may also need to fit with school policies and depending on the aims and outcomes of the outdoor learning programme, different design elements may be required.

Install an outdoor shelter or canopy

Maintaining a useful space that can be used for outdoor learning all year round is supported by the installation of an outdoor shelter or canopy.
A playground canopy provides shade during the summer months as well as protection from the wind and rain.
These useful additions not only mean outdoor learning activities can be held throughout the school year, they also extend the usability of the space, lending it to assemblies, presentations and performances.
Shelters and canopies can range from timber gazebos which accommodate a whole class, to play houses and dens for imaginative and creative play among smaller groups.

Incorporate benches, seats and tables

The scale of an outdoor classroom depends on the needs of the school. Incorporating playground furniture helps to make outdoor spaces more attractive to learners as well as supporting the likes of field work by providing an area where worksheets can be completed.
The right choice of benches, seats and tables can provide an open and relaxed learning space to encourage discussion and debate. Goals may include providing a space for quiet contemplation or 1-2-1 learning sessions.
Bench configurations can include more traditional layouts such as rows of fixed seatings, or the likes of cube seats can provide smaller group seating opportunities.
Our engraved seating supports learning outcomes and can be used as teaching tools in lessons as well as being a practical addition to outdoor classrooms.
Tables such as picnic benches can double up as outdoor dining areas at lunch and break times to extend the value.

Select playground equipment

Our playground projects are designed to support child development in a number of key areas from EYFS to KS1 and KS2.
Popular additions to outdoor learning areas include activity boards and activity tables such as a Chalkboard Easel, Whiteboard Table, Discovery Tables and Sand Pits and Ocean Trays for water play.
Encouraging messy play is a great way to help little ones understand different textures and concepts such as volume, capacity and movement.

Imaginative play can be encouraged with equipment such as Mud Kitchens and Playground Sculptures such as a Log Train or Sea Monster.
Outdoor musical instruments are an inclusive way to bring all students together to learn and explore sound and language as well as tap into different talents.
The Storyteller’s Chair is also a big favourite in outdoor classrooms, taking literacy into the outdoors and encouraging communication skills among pupils.
Gardening equipment such as planters and sensory play features appeal to all ages and abilities and can be used in lessons covering ecology.
Alternatively fitness equipment such as a Trim Trail can be used to support PE lessons and encourage children to stay active as part of a school commitment to physical literacy.

Choose surfacing materials

The right surfacing can help to extend the life of an outdoor classroom with low maintenance options for long-lasting durability.

Playground surfacing can also help to encourage greater take-up of an outdoor learning area as well as support the comfort and safety of students.
Wet Pour surfacing is a bright, colourful option for a clearly defined, attractive outdoor classroom area.
More natural landscapes may benefit from bound rubber mulch while outdoor carpets and artificial grass options are becoming increasingly popular.
Outdoor learning areas may make use of existing grassed areas, and the simple addition of grass mats can help to protect the area from heavy use.
At Hand Made Places our design team can advise on the best surface to suit the location as well as safety requirements.

Incorporate outdoor games and activities into lesson plans

Outdoor activities can help to build skills such as teamwork, collaboration, problem solving and social interaction.
It’s also a great way to get all children outdoors at a time when school trips may be costly.
Taking lessons outdoors can be a great way to make the most of the school grounds, building a sense of community with young people through spaces they respect.

A hand-on approach can also help to enhance understanding of complex subjects through more tactile, visual experiences.
And being outdoors makes everyone happier!

Design the perfect outdoor learning space

Hand Made Places works in partnership with schools, nurseries, and community locations to develop and deliver outdoor learning spaces which are fun and packed with play value.
We work across the UK to deliver outdoor learning space designs.
Contact our experienced teams today to discuss your playground vision or fill out our contact form for a free playground project consultation.