I am often asked what are the key must have items for a good outdoor space that will engage children & keep them coming back again & again for more high quality play experiences.
Here are my must haves: access to water, sticks, mud, sand, tyres (any movable loose parts) & quiet spaces.
Note no mention of expensive resources.
Vast amounts of space is certainly not one of them and yet for some reason many primary school playgrounds are big, wide open spaces with tarmac.
Too much space creates a problem on it's own - what do all children do when they are confronted with a lot of space - they run of course & tarmac & running children crashing onto each other is a recipe for disaster. Now I am not saying that running has no place in a playground, of course it does but far to often I see playgrounds where that is all the children do & I'm sorry but to me that is sign of boredom, the children can think of nothing else to do but run round & round & round.
The most important element is the children but next to that is to be able to create little pockets of areas within the bigger space, all children love to have places where they can be out of sight or at least feel as if they are out of sight. A playground should never just be about a large piece of fixed equipment & safety surface, that should just be part of it.
When we got our new school building in 2006, we were delighted to be in lovely open space as for 18 months we had been cramped into a tiny corner of the playground while the building went on. But very quickly we discovered that there were no nooks or crannies within this lovely new space. It was also so clean & bright that we were loath to let the children mess it up with chalk or paint etc. So over the past 8 years we have spent time observing how the children use the space & adding to it, adapting what we have & creating lots of little areas within the one space.
|A cosy outdoor reading area.|
We got 3 willow dens put in in 2008 & they were one of the best things ever & I would recommend these to any school with space for them. They allow the children to create whole worlds within a busy playground, they especially come into their own in the summer term when they are covered in leaves & the children love to hide away in them. They tend to see them as houses & go to visit each other from one to the other - often ringing a doorbell to gain entrance!
|We have 3 willow dens & have now joined these 2 together with a new arch.|
|We initially put down old branches to soak up the mud, now we have bark chippings or mulch.|
Thanks to the amazing Martin from Highway Farm Activity Centre & a brilliant dad, we also know have a deluxe mud kitchen in one corner for the children to enjoy making concoctions & 'baking'. We also have access to water thanks to a water barrel (we call it a water butt but I know Americans find this very funny).
|Our amazing mud kitchen.|
|5 years ago a parent built this for us.|
For anyone moving into a new space I would advise that you spend some time in the outdoor area observing how the children use the space, where does the sun shine most, where do the puddles gather etc. But most importantly, the outdoor space should never be finished, it should be a constant work in progress!
Once again there were loads of great Outdoor Play ideas linked up in the last OPP but a couple jumped out at me immediately as they featured 2 of my favourite books - The Bear Hunt & The Gruffalo. Mummy Mishaps was celebrating the 25th anniversary of Michael Rosen's well loved classic & red Rose Mummy took part in a Gruffalo trail organised by the Forestry Commission.
We're going a bear hunt, we're going to catch a big one...
|Red Rose Mummy|
How amazing is this - Julia Donaldson reading the Gruffalo!