Turn a dull playground into an exciting play space

18 February 2015

Early 20th century schools have been known to be surrounded by vast, black areas of tarmac, perhaps with line markings or coloured graphics that over time, have become faded, outdated and irrelevant.

Tarmac is admittedly functional and easy to maintain but its blandness and monotony can lead to isolation and a lack of stimulation. It’s also quite hard if children fall over and often too cold for them to sit on.

So what can you do to improve your tarmac areas and encourage better play, improve educational experiences and inspire more fun?

Take a look at my top 10 suggestions:

1.  Soften it.  Cover the ground with artificial grass carpet in various colours, such as green for ‘grass’, ochre for ‘sand’ and blue for ‘water’. The edges can either be bolstered in a sawn cut edge or glued on the edges. Design interesting shapes, such as geometrical or fluid. Maybe design shapes to go with a particular theme you had in mind – the choice is yours! 

2.  Paint it.  Look at the range of thermoplastic options available or design your own unique shapes and get a price from a specialist company. Don’t be limited by standard graphics – it’s possible to paint a wide variety of colours and suggest your own innovative theme.

3.  Cut it. Cut and lay small unit pavers or setts within the recesses made and use this to create lines, blocks, circles or boundaries to some painting.

4.  Resin and gravel it. Decide on your shapes and preferred colours and consider desired lines and routes through the play space. Ask for some specialist advice about the type of tarmac you have and what grade of fine aggregate to use. Have some samples made up to see what others think of your ideas.

5.  Raise it.  Build decks just above the surface. These could be used for performance spaces, quiet areas, ‘castles’, safe zones or no-go areas for bikes.

6.  Cover it. Add posts and a colourful / natural calico canopy for shade, space definition and shelter.

7.  Plant it.  Build raised beds to fill with soil and place sensory plants for children to eat, smell, touch and cook with.

8.  Sit on it.  Add seats, benches, boulders, picnic tables or storyteller chairs.

9.  Keep some tarmac! After all, it’s great for bike riding, running on and playing various play activities.

10.  A mixture of everything. It might be that you want to use a combination of some or all of these techniques. So, why not get creative and see what features fit with your playground?

Whatever you decide to do, it’s always a good idea to draw out your plans on paper to see if they work.  Once you’re happy with this, you’re ready to ask for some specialist advice about suitability, maintenance and prices.

It’s also worth looking into funding at this stage – you can do this with a simple Internet search. However, bear in mind that each provider has criteria about geographical location and what they will and won’t fund.  Here are a few funders to get you started:

See the gallery below of playgrounds that Newground have worked on for some inspiration. Hopefully, they’ll provide you with some ideas on how to turn your tired tarmac into exciting spaces that inspire imagination and active play.


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