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Paint the town red

Carolyn O'Grady finds aerosols can make a gloomy patch of asphalt much more fun. What to do with those bleak expanses of concrete which run like grey shadows around many Victorian primary schools? There are numerous solutions: you can add flowers and furniture; build an enormous play structure; drag out equipment from inside. Or you can paint the dark, gloomy surface. It is, after all, a time-honoured method. Hopscotch squares and other number games were standard drawings on most school playgrounds until relatively recently.

Painting tarmac, however, can be a tricky business, unless you have an artistic as well as practical caretaker, parent or teacher. What patterns do you use? What paints? Not all paints will survive the pounding of feet and elements sustained by a school playground.

To answer these questions Rocol Site Safety Systems, a manufacturer of aerosol paints, has for some years been developing a package of products to make the task of playground decoration simple. Consisting of marking paints, aerosol applicators and stencil kits, these enable schools to bring about a major transformation.

Hotwells Primary School in Bristol tried the system over a year ago. The previous summer the school had had the playground resurfaced, which "gave us a blank sheet to start on," headmaster Ken Hobday says. The question of who would design the playground was answered imaginatively - parents, teachers and, most of all, children were invited. But the majority of the work was done by Year 1 and Year 6 pupils working in pairs.

They adopted, deputy head Patricia Franey says, "a systematic approach to problem solving. The younger children described their ideas; the older children drew them and then they reviewed them together." The exercise also involved measuring, budgeting and writing to local industry to request sponsorship. "We began to cover so many attainment targets," Ms Franey says.

The actual painting was done during a weekend and brought together parents, teachers, governors and children in a painting party. Shapes were drawn first in chalk and then filled in with paint, using the applicators.

Two playgrounds were decorated: one for the nursery, where the theme is the springs which give the school its name, and the other for the young primary children, where the theme is a marine one, with brightly-coloured turtles, octopuses, a compass, a boat, a dolphin and shoals of fish.

Round the nursery playground runs a painted "road" with a "zebra crossing", which gives purpose to the children's manoeuvrings on bikes and in miniature cars and, it is hoped, sows a few road safety seeds. Number games are incorporated into the patterns and there is a 100-letter square and a hopscotch. To provide a quiet area, some seating was built into a corner of one of the playgrounds.

Hotwells is well pleased. The paints are bright and colourful and proved easy to apply, with aerosols either hand-held or pushed along on wheels to achieve a purer line. "Children play more," Mr Hobday says, "and there has been less aggression and bullying than there was in the previous vast, bare area. "

The school has lots of plans, helped by winning Pounds 1,000 in Rocol's Design a Playground competition last year. This year it hopes to decorate another bit of playground and add to the gaiety with flower tubs.

Rocol playground decorating paints Pounds 14.40 to Pounds 15.00 each aerosol spray can, four-wheel applicator for straight lines Pounds 88.40, two-wheel applicator Pounds 66.40. Stencil kits, price on application. Rocol Ltd, Rocol House, Swillington, Leeds LS26 8BS

Rocol - stand 834

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