Create Sensory and Educational School

School play areas should be stimulating, creative and exciting places to play, they should not only capture a child’s imagination but should also provide a safe area which encourages healthy mental and physical development. Too many schools only offer a playing field and a dull concreted area. The Governments’ Play Strategy published in December 2008 goes some way to encouraging better play facilities with £235 million of backed investment which will be used throughout communities and not just within schools. Most school playing areas were designed some years ago by adults who probably didn’t consider all the advantages of outdoor play.

Play sustains the healthy development of children. Whilst playing gross motor skills including walking, jumping and kicking will be strengthened, hand/eye co-ordination can be developed through throwing a ball, whilst kicking a ball will help with balance. By allowing children time to play social skills will be enhanced as they form groups of friends. Whilst all these skills can be formed on that concrete playground or playing field why not fuel development even further by creating an outside space that stands out.

The developments over the years in artificial surfaces allows play areas to become colourful and sensory areas. There are a variety of products available to consider when creating a new play area. One of these products is artificial grass, artificial grass allows for greater use of texture and colour. Synthetic turf provides an excellent alternative to real grass, concrete or bark mulch.

There are so many different varieties of synthetic turf sensory areas can be easily achieved. Not only will the surface be clean, safe and low maintenance, but by using a number of different products you can achieve varying textures and appearances. Products vary from very short quite rough pile turfs to very smooth, soft long turfs. The density of the turfs also differs. Coloured turfs including red, blue and yellow can be used to create exciting pathways and shapes. Artificial grass can be used to achieve critical fall heights under play equipment when installed with rubber impact matting. The grasses also work well when used in conjunction with rubber play tiles again adding another texture to the area. Other elements can be incorporated into the area including flowers, seating, trees, stepping stones and water features. Modern astro turf can be cut to any shape or size so all the other elements can be fitted within or around it.

When designing a new area for the children it can also work well to consider the statutory subjects of the Key Stages. Although the majority of learning will be done in the classroom, on occasion the classroom could be moved outdoors. As examples:

Maths – Why not incorporate numbers and shapes into the design. Numbers could be in the form of rubber play tiles and shapes cut out of the different coloured grasses.
Science – Incorporate flowers and plants into your design to study growth, a vegetable patch to encourage healthy eating, create animal shapes on the flooring and attract wildlife to the area with bird tables and bee boxes. Artificial grass benefits from not requiring any water, pesticides and no need for petrol lawn mowers, the children can consider the impact on the environment.
Art & Design/Design & Technology – If you are considering creating a new play area why not make it a project for the children. Let the children design areas. By giving the children the responsibility it will fuel their imagination for the outdoors. Look at the technology behind the products being used.
PE – Dedicate an area that makes keeping fit exciting and not a chore. Some artificial grasses are made specifically from sports use.

Play areas can be tailored to children throughout Key Stage development. By using surfaces such as those mentioned above children with special educational needs can also benefit hugely.

Learning through play should be an all year round activity and this can be helped along by creating a play area which fuels the imagination when using surfaces such as artificial grass and rubber tiles.