The quality of school grounds can either support children with additional needs or make life more difficult for them. Well-designed school grounds can enrich the school experience of many pupils with additional support needs. For example, children with sensory impairments experience more sensory stimulation outdoors than indoors while children with behavioural issues often respond well to opportunities to be more physically active and adventurous.
Children who find it difficult to interact socially tend to mix more readily when there is a wider range of play opportunities on offer while children who struggle with classroom learning often do well in more practical outdoor situations.
Provide features that encourage pupils to be active. These could be games or skills-focused, like basketball hoops or a volleyball net. One secondary school designed and built their own crazy golf course and operate it as a small business as part of their enterprise programme. Others have created specialist bike skills, loops or jump tracks’ often on very small areas of ground. Alternatively, there are more social approaches to encouraging physical activity.
For example, some schools have created surfaced pathways around the perimeter of their grounds to allow pupils to escape the cramped asphalt areas and enjoy a walk and a chat. Decking areas and stages will encourage spontaneous performance, especially if they can be combined with outdoor speakers and other playground equipment for school.
Good places embody principles of sustainability. In school grounds this could be the use of sustainable urban drainage and the creation of temporary soak areas, with wetland plants. It could be the provision of areas for growing food and facilities for composting and community re-cycling. It should include facilities to encourage active travel; secure cycle storage and, in primary schools, covered areas for parents to encourage them to walk children to school.
Seating and meeting
Seating and meeting spaces are important for all age groups, but perhaps particularly for secondary pupils, where comfortable and attractive outdoor spaces to ‘hang out’ are highly valued. It’s important to provide enough seating to avoid creating competition for a scarce resource. Think about providing seating that can accommodate larger groups and provide a useful space for working outdoors with a class.
These areas might also benefit from a focal point, such as a stage, sculpture or fire pit as well as some tables; useful for writing during outdoor lessons and for outdoor dining. It’s also helpful to provide seating that enables smaller groups to form. Informal seating is often popular with pupils and grass banks, boulders, logs, steps, decking and walls all create opportunities for children and young people to create their own seating.