Playgrounds have always been an integral part of children's development, but for many years they were a neglected area. But that is all changing as teachers and parents look to make them places to inspire learning.
One group taking the issue seriously is the National Confederation of Parent Teacher Associations. In partnership with Learning through Landscapes, it has set up a project open to all school parent groups in England.
The aim is to show adults how to transform school playgrounds. It provides a resource pack to help design, plan and implement projects backed by a helpline for further help and advice.
Gary Burn, head of national programmes at Learning through Landscapes, says: "Children spend 20 per cent of their school life in the playground, so it is worth making it an important part of the school. It can offer so much more than a place to kick a ball."
There are many manufacturers of equipment that is safe while offering children new learning experiences. One firm at this year's Education Show is Playforce. Among other ideas, staff will demonstrate a timber trail, which is ideal for use as part of a PE lesson and encourages better balance and climbing skills.
There is also Hand Made Places, a firm whose ethos is "to provide environments in which children feel comfortable and are able to unleash their imaginations and creativity". It will display some of its best-selling ideas, including the "amazing seating pentagonal maze", which doubles as an outside classroom, as well as bespoke playgrounds featuring virtual ponds and dragons.
Elsewhere, Wicksteed unveils its Tropica multi-play units, suitable for two to eight-year-olds. Wicksteed Nursery Rhymes, a multi-play system for the under-fives, will also be there. For older children, there are Premier Ballcourts, comprising a totally modular multi-sport system.
Playdale provides a myriad of options for schools and local authorities.
Climbers, which encourages clambering, and the low-level Adventure Trail are among the ranges suitable for schools. Playdale also provides a free design service.
Whether you want a complete playground transformation or something to enhance what you already have, you'll find no shortage of ideas here.
Learning Together project. Tel: 01962 846258; www.ltl.org.uknpindexnp.htmlwww.ncpta.org.uk
Hand Made Places
Playforce Limited Stand
Wicksteed Leisure Limited
* The Youth Sport Trust has just developed the Primary Playground Development Resource Pack to help schools make the most of outdoor areas.
It includes information on creating safe playgrounds, encouraging a wide range of activities, playground re-design, staff training, a teachers'
guide, a supervisors' handbook and activity cards. It costs pound;99.95.
Tel: 01509 226 600; www.youthsporttrust.org