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Getting active: Small playground ideas for schools

Getting active: Small playground ideas for schools

The number of children who regularly meet their physical activity suggested hours is less than 20%. Schools try to be creative with extracurricular clubs to help engage children in being active. This becomes even more challenging when you are working with a small playground and outdoor space.

In this blog, you’ll find small playground ideas for schools. Recognising the barriers to active play in a small space and finally sharing some playground ideas to make the most of the area you’re working with.

What is active play?

Are active play and physical activity the same? Well, in short, not quite. Active play is when children interact with a game or activity using physical movement. Active play is often free-flowing play and happens naturally.

Physical activity is the term used mainly by the Department for Education (DfE), World Health Organisation (WHO), and NHS in statutory guidance schools will follow. Physical activity encompasses all voluntary movement, including exercise and free-flow play.

The benefits of outdoor play cannot be underestimated, there are significant studies to show the direct correlation between exercise and play and improved mental health in children.

Physical activity is a daily requirement for children to remain healthy and well. Obesity and inactivity are one of the singularly most challenging issues for the NHS in the 21st century. It is often thought that children are very active, always running around on the playground with endless energy.

But, would you be surprised to know that 1 in 5 children begin primary school overweight or obese? This figure climbs even higher to 1 in 3 children by the beginning of secondary school.

Children need to move their bodies more throughout the school day (and at home). So, how can we make movement easier for children? Give them something to be motivated by!

Small playground ideas for schools: The challenges

If you are working with a small playground, it can be tricky to be creative with your available area. Especially when you don’t want your playground duty to turn into another session that requires planning.

Let’s look at some of the challenges small playgrounds face first before we share our activity and playground design ideas…

Space to swing a cat (or a racket)

It can be hard to pick up speed in a race when working with a small space, so creativity is needed to ensure the children in your school don’t miss out on building flexibility, bone density and muscle strength. Take inspiration from playground game ideas when utilising space.

A combination of ages

Choosing age-appropriate games can be hard when working in a small playground. How do you allow Year 1 and Year 6 to interact safely whilst giving them some physical challenge and the opportunity for heavy and hard work as part of a sensory circuit?

Specific or general interests

When you have a small playground, having specific pieces of outdoor play equipment may demotivate others from interacting with it. For example, football goals might be great for 2/5 of the school, but what about the rest? Offering an inclusive playground is just as important as allowing freedom to burn some energy.

Not forgetting the hard-to-motivate inactive group of children who regularly choose passive playground activities. Including girls in physical activity is a struggle your school may relate to. Having school play equipment that motivates all to participate is beneficial for their involvement levels.


Where to start?

It can be overwhelming when thinking of how to make the most of a small or irregularly shaped playground. Senior leadership teams can be forgiven for needing to know where to begin to enhance your available space and encourage physical activity across primary schools.

Mr Bump, Miss Bruise and Mrs Grazed Knee

Injuries are common during unstructured times, especially when you include physical activity (and speed). A small playground can bring with it increased minor injuries during playtime. If the only focus is to run around, collisions will be regular.

How to get active: Small playground ideas

Let’s share some ideas on how to make the most of your small playground, we’ll start from the bottom, up!

Outdoor playground flooring

If space is your issue, your first creative idea begins at your toes. Giving children direction and making movement easier through exciting flooring patterns can increase physical activity at playtimes. Consider adding some hopscotch squares, a race track or counting splats to your playground.


Want to see how Stanhope Primary School transformed their small space? Check out the finished project.

Small space activities for primary schools

A full-sized football pitch may be out of your dimensions, but you can get creative with other traditional sports equipment to encourage physical activity (including mini-football goals). Some smaller space equipment, such as volleyball nets, basketball hoops, and handball nets, can help broaden sporting horizons and increase physical activity.

Flexible outdoor play equipment

If space is a luxury, think carefully about the outdoor play equipment you choose. Having flexible play equipment can help your playground to be inclusive whilst offering physical challenge and making movement more accessible and fun!

Having sports trim trails that can be used during PE and PSHE lessons can be beneficial for helping children self-regulate and aid in building physical strength and stamina.

Get creative (and green-fingered)

Think of physical activity as building strength, flexibility and cardiovascular endurance. You may think of something other than gardening. There is a lot of heavy work and core strength required for gardening. Don’t rule out using a section of your playground (or even the front of your school) to help motivate those who can fall into the inactive group due to sports not being a preferred choice of playtime activity by creating your own sensory garden.

How can Playtime by Fawns help?

Our playground experts have over 30 years of experience working with various spaces, from small and irregular to huge community projects. Our free design consultation focuses on the space available, marrying up with your school budget, together we will transform your playground into a vibrant space where children are motivated to play.

Want more inspiration? Check out our recent projects list to find a school just like yours, and contact a member of our sales team today for more advice.

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