Wednesday, 6 August 2014

Utilising the space you have.

In January 2013 children, parents & staff at my school came together to plant a woodland on a long strip of sloping green space that was rarely used within the school playground. During a 4 hour period around 500 trees were planted & 3 willow dens planted. We even ran out if space in the main grass area & it was decided to plant on a further grass verge outside the main playground gates, just above the nursery playground. Little did we know on that Saturday morning that the decision to plant in this extra space would create an incredible area for the nursery class to enjoy a real 'forest' experience on a weekly basis. We realised how great this little wild area was in that June but we were concerned by the proximity of a roadway for delivery vehicles that ran alongside it, so thankfully the school management team was easily persuaded to fence it off just for the nursery class to use. It was all finished & ready for us to use at the end of September & we were able to start visiting this space while the children were still settling-in in 2 small groups of 13/14. It was perfect for us to introduce them to in the smaller group, establishing a few ground rules e.g. they were allowed to run on ahead up the Tarmac road as long as they stopped at the red circle on the gate. In the first few visits one of the children called it Bear Woods & the name stuck, so this particular class can also claim to have named this space. Peter, our local biodiversity officer, who helped plant the areas made us a great sign for the area & we decorated the fence with coloured plastic circles, bunting, mirrors & posters from Cosy Direct. 

September 2013
August 2014

In the first term we visited monthly but in the second & third terms it became a weekly event & we even had 2 birthday parties in the space. The children really looked forward to visiting this space & we noticed that they were very calm in their play & spent time just sitting chatting in the long grass. They played in a very different way in Bear Woods too, games developed that they never ever took back to the playground; a favourite one was pretending to be stuck or tied to the fence & having to be rescued by one particular child! As the year progressed we brought more resources up to stay in the space, ropes, big plastic lorries & cars, Bottle Babies, silver garden balls, sticks & play food. 
Bear Woods looking down onto the nursery.
We kept to a familiar routine on our Bear Woods days, the children played about in the playground while we gradually got everyone dressed into their 'rain gear' before loading up the wagon & heading up the hill to the space, we took snack up with us & had it on arrival - usually a biscuit sandwich & some fruit. Once snack was over the children were free to head off around the space to play. Most days we would still be up there when the main school had their morning breaktime & older siblings enjoyed coming over to the adjoining fence to chat to the children. 
Long term, as the trees grow & the space develops we hope to have some semi permanent shelters dotted around the space. Having seen some of Cosy's portable willow dens in place in some of the Derby nurseries, I know these will be perfect for the space. We also have an artist coming to work with the children this year to create some outdoor art for this space.
 As the space is on a slope the children have to learn to negotiate walking on an uneven surface, walking up & down the incline. They love rolling down the hill - learning to avoid the trees & each other! They enjoy racing the cars or silver balls down the hill & using the ropes to climb up the slope. 
There is a brilliant post by Timbernook about why children fidget & it illustrates perfectly the value of having such a space for regular use - you can read that article here:

So my advice is to have a look around your space & see if there is a strip of land you could develop as a wild or wooded area to allow for some different outdoor play experiences on site.

The green space in the main school before & after.


  1. It's lovely to see how Bear Woods took shape and how much the children benefit from this fab space and all the wonderful outdoor experiences they have there. Thanks for linking up and sharing with Country Kids.

    1. Thanks Fiona, I can't wait to see how it develops this year too.

  2. Such a good use of open space! I live in an area where you have to travel a wee bit far to reach some places with trees. I wish I can do something like this! It is nice to witness an area grow along with your child =) #countrykids