4 clever ideas to improve your school playground

If you work within a school and are responsible for a class of children in any capacity (whether teacher or TA) you will spend hours and hours thinking about, researching, planning and resourcing your classroom environment. Your laminator has probably had a literal meltdown at least twice this year / holiday already and every display, tray label and even Maths resource is beautifully prepared and coordinated. As a teaching team we spend even longer discussing school ethos, behaviour policies and strategies and mission statements.

My point is that the physical environment inside the school building and the feel and ethos of a school is all planned for. It is managed and time and a lot of money is spent on it. So, why does this not happen when we think about the physical environment outside the classroom and why do our calm, caring, thoughtful, listening children seem to disappear as soon as they get outside? Playgrounds and playtimes need to be viewed in the same way as classrooms. A few simple ideas and initiatives can result in huge improvements.

Transform Your School Playground with These Clever Ideas!

Responsibility and funding:

My first, and main suggestion, would be having one person who is responsible for playtimes. Some one who takes ownership of the playground and time spent on it. This is usually the Headteacher or a member of SLT as they involve the whole school and issues arise during lunchtimes where class teachers are outside of their directed hours.

Responsiblity and Funding

Just as the provision in the classroom needs to be thought about and planned for so does the provision outside the classroom. Activities and ethos need to be led from the top and it will require money.

Each year schools spend thousands of pounds resourcing classrooms because that is where our children ‘learn’ and this is why schools exist. But what about the learning that takes place outside the classroom? The social development, the friendships, the soft skills that we don’t have a National Curriculum for but that are essential for a child’s development and underpin their academic success? What if we spent just a fraction of this money on our playtimes and playground environment? What impact would this have on our young people?

So you have a playtime leader and they have (some) money to spend. What next?


Successful playgrounds often have clear, distinct zones so that the play is managed and the risk of injury is lowered. It makes sense to keep the Upper Key Stage Two footballers away from the readers and artists and the Key Stage One superheroes away from the bats and balls. Have a look at the total area available with a fresh pair of eyes. Try to find out where all the accidents and behavioural incidents take place over the course of a week and then have a meeting. It may be the case that Key Stage One have always moved around onto the larger playground when the older ones have gone in as you have split playtimes, but why do they do this? Why are you making children move away from already established games for the last 10 minutes of play? Is it a good idea to have children playing outside the Key Stage Two children in their guided reading sessions? Do the younger children really need the larger area to play football on when they have been playing nicely where they are for the last 45 minutes? Are there behavioural incidents linked to this? And, is football really a good idea at the back of the school anyway with the lower hedge when you have already lost 10 football over it this term? Would it be better on the smaller front playground that has the higher fence? Ask those questions, be able to justify what you are already doing and it’s ok. If you can’t justify it then maybe a change is needed?

Another good idea is to review what is in each zone. Children need time and space to get out of the classroom at breaktime but do all of your zones have to be gross motor control based? What about the quieter children who just want to read; the creative children who want to colour and make flower chains or stick and leaf pictures? Do you have any talented actors, singers or even dancers in the school? A decking stage with scaffolding rig for curtains will provide hours of structured play and can even be used as an outdoor arena for your performance poetry or Talk for Writing story telling sessions. Sited correctly and large enough and you could even do your Christmas carol concert out there- we did one year (complete with snow machine, fairy lights and mulled wine) and it was great!

Playground Zone signs set of fifteen

Transform Your School Playground with These Clever Ideas!

Sports leaders:

Other proven improvements to outdoor provision is the introduction of well trained sports leaders. Play and lunchtime staff have a very challenging job and there are never enough of them. By having pupils trained as sports leaders you instantly have extra staff available to you. The leaders can organise groups of children to move the skippers away from the footballers. They can referee the 4 square games and can scoop up the lonely, sad or nervous children giving them instant friends to sports with and a smile for the rest of their day. Good leadership training will ensure that they understand how to support playground games without taking over. They know how to talk to other children and have a respected role that will support the adults on duty.

Who you choose as your sports leaders is another question. Traditionally they are the most gifted sportsmen and women. They are given opportunities to go to festivals and tournaments and are sent to enrichment days at linked secondary schools and area sports partnerships. Having a bib or t-shirt and leading play at lunchtimes is a reward that they love and are usually good at.

Other schools choose to use less able sportsmen and women. They choose those quieter children who need a bit of support and nurturing. If you have a child who is finding it difficult to make friends or have someone to play with, who may be bullied or lonely then what better way to give them recognition and self esteem than asking them to support other children? They are occupied and given a role and will end up looking forward to a time of day they used to dread. Think about that child who can not play ‘nicely’ with other children, the one who leads the superhero fighting games? Give them a day’s training on leadership and supporting other children and watch the transformation the next time they are on that playground. Give them a t-shirt to wear after a successful half term and the opportunity to identify and reward ‘good’ behaviour in other children and you may well have worked wonders!

Simple, easily resourced activities:

You now have your zones and sports leader and the Headteacher has a (limited?) budget to spend? What are the other children in the school actually going to be doing on your re-invigorated playground? The answer is to find simple, easily resourced games for them to play and to give them the opportunities and resources to develop these as they want.


-playground markings.

-a stage to put on performances.

-a quiet area and some older library books they can take outside.

-a scrap paper tray and older crayons and felts that have been saved from the bin. 

-football / netball / basketball / tag rugby are always popular and can occupy lots of children at once.

-4 Square- always popular and such a simple game to learn and play. Can be adapted to suit all ages and abilities and is easier to referee than football!

-playground chalks to draw their own games on the floor or even walls- don’t worry, it all washes off! 

-music (make sure you have a license to play music outside) is great. I have had 180 children all doing a mini flash mob at lunchtime before and it was one of the highlights of my teaching career! Children love to sing and dance along to chart hits but just make sure you use the radio edits and check for language!

-small equipment is always popular but needs replacing often and policing at times. Bats and balls, skipping ropes, hoops, coits, how about diablos?


Regular reviews are needed and plans for development needed. It never ends does it?

Transform Your School Playground with These Clever Ideas!

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