How to Design the Ultimate School Playground

Estimated reading time 7 minutes

School is almost out for summer and as a result, plans for refurbs to the school grounds could well be underway. From classrooms to gym halls, from playgrounds to portacabins the budget will no doubt be getting as stretched as far as possible to give the school an invigorated upgrade ready for the new term.

Where to start though? It can be a challenge enough to work out where the money should be spent and depending on the age of the children attending the school, more priority may lean towards certain things than others.

In this month’s blog we are outlining how you can make the perfect school playground so should that be an area of focus, you can head into the job, full of everything you need to know.

For this example, we are basing the playground on a typical primary school age range.

Getting the best playground design for your budget

Budgets vary from school to school and in some cases, this can lead to things being missed out to cut corners and save money. Whilst we wouldn’t expect every school to invest their entire budget in improving and upgrading the playground, we are sure that many schools consider the varying needs of the children when such a task arises.

Today, with approximately 5% of children registered as disabled, this means that factoring accessibility into the plans is just as important as finding the most exciting climbing frame or slide.

The following steps should help you deliver the best possible playground so that all children can enjoy it when the new term begins.

Define the objectives of your playground

If you are looking at restarting the playground or giving it an entirely new look, it would be best to set out some core objectives.

Consider how many children are likely to be using it at one time. If break times are the same for all year groups, could it become overcrowded? This will help give you an idea of how much space you should allocate to it.

Then look at the age of the children using it. Will it be just for the younger years, or will it be for all the pupils? If open to all then the activities need to match varying levels of interest

Are you considering a theme? Trends are good but do come and go so could a more uniform look provide you with longevity?

Does the sun hit the playground a lot at break times? If so, could you factor in shady areas and benches?

Do you require access for disabled children and how can you make the playground engaging for them?

These are just a few of the core things to consider around your playground. But before you can proceed, establish what the budget is. You will want to achieve your objectives but should work with cost in mind rather than fantasy.

Once you have established answers to these, you can move on to the next stage.

Does your existing playground match your wants and needs?

The space already allocated to your playground may be perfect for you to use and replace with a fully new area of fun for the children. Should it not, you may need to factor in an alternate area of the school grounds for it to work as you want it to.

Either way, you will need to analyze the site you have or wish to have to make sure it is big enough and ultimately safe. This could mean redefining what surface you use for it. If the new area you are laying your playground in gets more sunlight than other areas of the school, certain surfaces will work better than others and if the existing area is full of cracks or potholes, you may be considering a totally new type of surface.

Also, look at the drainage as this could vastly impact how well your playground sits within the grounds. This is where you can benefit from expert guidance from companies like Tidey & Webb who specialise in commercial surfacing projects. With an assessment of your grounds and your plans for how you desire to use them, the team will be able to advise you on the right kinds of surfaces available to you.

Designing the playground

With your objectives set and your land deemed perfect to meet them, you will need to start the design part. This can be both fun and challenging.

In this guide, we have based the playground on primary school age groups and with these there should be plenty of options open to you to keep the children engaged and having fun during break times.

One of the first things to consider at the design stage are the core types of play and how much you want to incorporate them into the design:

Active play-such as running around, jumping, climbing and swinging.

Sensory play-Items that include touch, smell, and sound. This could extend to flowers, music and sensory boards.

Creative play-Drawing, painting, crafting and musical instruments among other things.

Imaginative play-Role play items, playhouses, kitchens and props to encourage imagination and interaction.

Social play- Talking, sharing and engaging with each other. Sometimes all this takes is some tables and chairs!

You may want to fit all of these into your design, but it is of course, not always possible. As you discover the array of items available, prioritise the need.  For example, you may have found two brilliant slides that fall within the budget but are you likely to compromise items that could fall within other play sectors?

As you start to set out a design, consider the look you want it to have but importantly factor in how accessible you make it. If your school has a high number of wheelchair users, do not make your sensory area or creative area for example up a set of steps. Factor in ramps where needed and activities that can accommodate wheelchairs.

Then look at your age groups. Would you like to separate them in the playground, or can they play together? The answer to this could define how you lay out the activities.

It is important to offer the children plenty of variety and fitting activities into the varying play types is a great start but are you overwhelming them? Sometimes a lot is too much so weigh up the positives and negatives of the features you want to add.

You’ll then want to look at the varying level of challenge offered by the equipment. Within each section, you should consider introducing an increasing level of challenge. For example, in your area for active play, you may want three activities that gradually get more difficult for the children to complete. This brings out more character in the children yet also stops those more advanced children from getting bored.

Whilst playgrounds are mainly about play, you can also factor in zones that become all about “fun with learning.” A garden, a covered pond or a school pet enclosure can be fantastic additions to a playground.

Installing the playground

Once you have set out the design and had the budget approved you can progress to getting it installed. This can take considerable time so having it laid during the summer holidays can often be best. The first task would be removing all the old equipment and then having your new surface laid. A playground surfacing Sussex company like Tidey & Webb will be able to complete this for you ready for your chosen playground supplier to come in and install their equipment.

Once installed, we would advise all relevant health and safety assessments are taken out to ensure your playground is fully compliant. In many cases, certain aspects of risk assessments and safety checks can be carried out pre as well as post-installation. Speak with your chosen playground company to find out what they can do for you regarding this.

There is of course a lot to incorporate into a school playground design and some of it can be very time-consuming. Why not get one of the first objectives ticked off by having Tidey  & Webb provide you with a free playground surfacing quote so you can start assessing costs and timescales for this exciting school project? Contact us today, we would be delighted to help reinvigorate your school.

© 2024 Tidey & Webb Ltd. Registered in England No. 01329531