Friday, 9 May 2014

You can't just buy a good outdoor space - Outdoor Play Party.

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 noticed that children would gather under one of the platforms on the slide structure with books, by chance I had bought a tarp in the £1 section of a local supermarket that turned out to be too tiny for any real use but was perfect for creating 2 'walls' under the slide so a book corner was created.
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.
With constant use our grass wore away & rather than see this as a problem we decided to embrace the muddiness & create a forest area. First we put down old Christmas tree branches & then bark chippings, pine cones & any tree branches that people will donate to us.

We initially put down old branches to soak up the mud, now we have bark chippings or mulch.
This has created an amazing 'natural' area with in the stark playground & it is wonderful to see children playing away in this area as if they were in a much bigger forest.
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.
Another dad built us a great big sandpit under the verandah area many years ago & it is a brilliant asset to have. 
5 years ago a parent built this for us.
I think it is important to have a covered area so that children can be outside but not standing in torrential rain, the area needs to be large enough to allow a whole class to be in the space if need be. Some afternoons, we have the doors open & the children know they can play between the classroom & the covered area. We have deliberately chosen not to put doors on this area as we don't want it feel like an indoor area.
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.
Mummy Mishaps
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!

  • Any kind of children's outdoor play-related posts are welcome!

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Please note that by contributing you are giving permission for an image and link to your post to be republished if featured.(If you have been featured, please feel free to grab the 'featured' button from the sidebar.) Share your ideas for outdoor play activities with us every other week!


  1. I really admire how much you do with simple resources. Your teaching from them looks as good as anything money could buy.

    1. Thanks Fiona & for your continued support xx

  2. Yay we too have conifer branches as a flooring to a small space in our setting. Great article !

    1. I love the smell of them! Hoping to add some to our wooded area in the new year too.

  3. Thanks so much for featuring us, we had a wonderful day.

    1. I bet you did, what an incredible experience & a photo to treasure.

  4. I'm in awe of your kitchen and willow dens, both things that I want for our garden for The Boy.

    Thanks for hosting.

    1. Thanks, they are firm favourites of mine too, I have a new post on the willow as it's looking so good at the moment I felt the need to share!!

  5. Your outdoor space is fabulous. I love your new mud kitchen! I also love that it is always a work in progress, like you say, there is always room for improvement and I'm sure with each year you have different children that use the space differently. Just brilliant!

    1. That is so true Leila - every year it is incredible to see how the class uses the space compared to the year before! It certainly means no day is every the same at nursery let alone a year, the yellow house is a tree house to some, a rocket to others & the living room of the mud kitchen to this current class!

  6. Amazing! Love the enthusiasm and support you receive from your community. Love all your outdoor spaces.

  7. thank you Kierna for mentioning my post and I am so sorry it has taken me so long to pop over and thank you, comment and add a post! I was away on holiday at the time so have been playing catch up!! I hope you enjoy my new post as much ;)
    anyway, back to your lovely post. what a fantastic mud kitchen i know 2 little boys who would LOVE to make use of that to make some mud pies! great outdoor spaces to offer stimulation, education and fun x x

    1. Hi Jenny, don't worry glad you had a lovely time on holiday & thanks again for your support of the OPP. I have to say I love going to look at the mud kitchen every morning!!


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