Sunday, 1 December 2013

Making the most of a small outdoor space.

I recently asked followers of my page for some topic ideas for future posts, I got lots of them so will have a few ideas for the next few weeks. The first one I'm starting off is how to make the most of a small outdoor space, mainly because our space is quite small in relation to most others.

You can see it's certainly not a large space.
We were in very cramped outdoor conditions for a year and half before moving into our new premises so it seemed like perfection to us. For over a year it was big, clean open space but then we began to develop different areas within the small space. The one saving grace we do have is that we are very sheltered, we can't be seen from the road & therefore can leave most resources out all the time with no chance of theme being taken.
I know not everyone can leave tyres, crates or tree stumps outdoors all the time & it would be very different if we did have to bring these in all the time.
Luckily all the 'loose parts' can be left outside.
I think the key is to make different areas within the space so it feels bigger. We now have what we call the 'forest area', it started off as a large expanse of grass, then we added 3 willow dens. Over time the grass wore away - I do think if you want pristine grass you are going to have to keep the children off it most of the year. We chose not to do this & eventually we had no grass at all just mud. Last January we put down old Christmas tree branches to soak up the mud & then later added bags of bark chippings. These have been the best addition as they become loose parts all by themselves. Over the past 3 years we have gathered up enough logs to line the whole of the forest area with them to contain the bark chippings. 

A few weeks ago we made a tiny little hill with some more bark chippings & it is lovely to watch the children rolling down it & running up & over it. It is really a slight incline but to a 3 & 4 year old it feels like a hill.
Sometimes when the children are playing in among the willow dens & cooking with bark chippings or pine cones on the tree stumps it is hard to believe we are sitting inside the playground of a school. It really does feel like we have a little forest in the playground.

We installed a double slide & little wooden house when we got the new playground & while I know many are against fixed equipment, I'd have to say ours has more than earned it's keep in the playground. The children like to hang out together in the tunnel between the 2 slides, they enjoy going up one & down the other & love spotting key landmarks in the town from the top of the slide. The little house can be a rocket, shop, boat or plain house. It is is always busy & in use.

We have created a mud patch in one corner, it is most popular on very wet days when it fills up with lovely squishy mud. There is a water butt attached to one down pipe & it has created a water play area & because it is parallel to the mud area water can be transferred easily between the 2 with buckets etc. by walking along behind the slides.
Our mud patch
The water butt is at the side of the slide & across from the mud patch.
In the small area of tarmac that we have it has lots of tyres on it so it can transformed into a variety of play spaces. Sometimes the tyres form a track for the bikes, other times they created a barrier for pipe & ball play. On Fridays we always light the fire in the bottom half of the tarmac. We have again gathered up enough tree stumps to make a seating circle with some additional planks & then the rest of the week the stumps are all piled in a corner to create a climbing area.  
In the warmer summer term the large Community Playthings hollow blocks tend to get spread all over the tarmac area & we can have bowling on there too.

If I was advising someone on how to develop a small space from scratch, I'd advise getting some tyres, palettes & tree stumps. These will create many play scenarios for the children. If at all possible I would advocate approaching garden centres etc. and asking if they could give discounted prices on bulk buys of bark chippings or come to some arrangements on split bags that can't be resold.
Creating an area with a natural feel of bark chippings will be the best investment a setting could make. 
We take the class on monthly visits to several forest settings & outdoor play areas and we also have a wooded/wild area for our use within the main school grounds but I can honestly say the playground is my favourite space to enjoy watching young children totally involved in good quality outdoor play.


  1. Such enthusiasm Kierna. Such fun and adventures those kids must have.

    1. Thanks Karen, it means a lot to hear that from you xx

  2. I think you made the most of the space you have and have some great equipment and play resources for the children to have wonderful child lead play with. Thanks for linking up and sharing with Country Kids.

    1. Thanks Fiona, I hope so! Loved your secret beach post xx

  3. I think you've made brilliant use of the space with some fantastic things for the kids to play in/on/around. #CountryKids

    1. Thanks Sara, I am rather proud of how we have transformed a bland typical school playground into something more exciting & natural.


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