Designing the school playground’s outdoor space

The schools' duty to ensure that pupils get exercise and movement every day can be fulfilled by teaching subjects such as sports, but also in supportive teaching, where subjects such as language or maths are taught in the school playground. But the playground at a school is also a free space for children and young people, which must be safe and accommodate challenges for children of many ages and with many different needs.

Need to design a new playground for a school? Then we can be your professional partner, ready to give you advice from start to finish. You can also learn more about the schools' obligations to offer pupils daily exercise. And you’ll gain useful knowledge about the disposition - as well as get inspiration for designing a good outdoor space.

Movement in lessons

Exercise and movement during school time support pupils' health, well-being and concentration.
WHO recommends that children and young people aged 5-17 get 60 minutes of exercise a day.

Everything counts, even when you get your heart rate up during break time as you run around the playground or on a merry-go-round. In short, the idea is that the school should have some play equipment in its outdoor space, which not only motivates pupils to play but which can also serve as a useful tool during lessons.

There are four approaches to movement in teaching.

The four approaches to learning explained

1) Physically anchored learning
The body is used to work with learning goals and the body is active in the learning process. Here you work with load, speed, rotation and acceleration.

2) Power breaks
Power breaks of 5-10 min. can be used in lessons where you want to increase students' attention and motivation. Equipment could be a climbing net or a trampoline to jump the seven times table on.

3) Physical activity
During physical activity, the body's strength and endurance are trained. High bars on jungle tracks or parkour are tools that can be used to train your body using your own body weight to achieve physical activity.

4) Motor training

Motor training involves training the basic senses such as the vestibular sense, the tactile sense and the kinaesthetic sense. Training these senses has been shown to be crucial for optimal learning. One example is playing on a merry-go-round.

You can read more about movement and learning here.

How do we build and create the best outdoor spaces?

We work with four concepts when we create a playground:

Here is an example of an architect-designed playground

Based on the four elements mentioned above, an architect-designed playground for a school with varied play equipment could look like this.

The general disposition of the outdoor space for schools

A well-appointed outdoor space at a school is often based by the school's main entrance. This is where most pupils arrive in the morning, and this is also where parents, school visitors and staff are received. It is therefore important that already at the entrance people get an impression that the school is focused on togetherness, movement and learning - or whatever you as a school want to convey.

Is the idea to invest in a large and eye-catching play tool or a main activity?
Then the main entrance can be a good location. It is a good idea to build a larger common zone centrally in connection with the main activity, where all students can assemble, such as on sports days and the first day of school.

Equipment for calm activity is placed at one end of the common zone with equipment for wilder, dynamic activity at the other. All activities should offer a rest area. These rest areas can have different features; usually we would place relaxing elements such as a bench by the quiet equipment and more transient elements by play equipment of a wilder nature.

What to bear mind when designing a playground

• Different spaces - both large and open and some that are more limited.

• Different play equipment, i.e. stationary and dynamic equipment for different types of play.

• Equipment that can facilitate many children at once.

• There must be something high where the children can climb up and get a view of the often quite large area.

• Both clear and more indirect learning elements in the design, the surface and in the choice of equipment.

• Rest options must vary between options to sit, lie down, stand and hang out as well as the opportunity to be a meeting place for small and large groups.

• Planting in the form of grass, trees, shrubs, flowers and planters to help define the space and break up the often hard surfaces.

In addition to the functions on the playground, you should also consider the following:

• Do you need to be able to look into the area/at the activities?

• Do several user groups have the opportunity to use the area? Is the school used outside normal opening hours?

• Is there a safe environment? Light, openness, fencing and staff?

• Is the area also going to be used in winter, in rainy weather or is the area exposed to wind?

• How does the equipment fit into the environment? For example, does each item of play equipment relate to the age of the other buildings?

• Places with a strong identity and clear functional themes increase usage.

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