Thursday, 2 April 2015

My reasons for fixed equipment in the playground.

I was speaking at a conference last month on getting children outdoors & before it started one of the other speakers and I were chatting over coffee. Annie was over from England and wanted to get a 'feel' for typical playground set ups in Northern Ireland, she asked me how I felt about fixed equipment.
This is a hot topic for many schools, 5 years ago big climbing structures or slides were discouraged; the argument being they don't allow for progression whereas more recently new settings are installing them again.
After thinking about our slide, I had no problem saying that if I had to go back 9 years to when we moved into our new space, I would still invest in a piece of fixed equipment. Here are my reasons, our playground is quite unique as far as school settings go, it looks very different to the average playground that small children and their parents are used to. Therefore the slide provides something familiar to the children when they start with us, just as settings have home corners inside for the children to feel comfortable in the alien school environment, the slide does the same outside.
Most children coming into nursery have heard the following messages 'Put that stick down, don't play with dirt, don't pick THAT up, be careful' etc. etc. so when presented with our playground it could be overwhelming. We have lots of sticks, logs, tree stumps, mud, bark chippings, tyres and other 'loose parts' that the children do begin to interact with and weave into their play as time progresses but first they need to see something they recognise and know how to play with and this is where the slide comes into play.
When confronted with a playground like this, children and parents need to recognise something familiar!
Sometimes this is the first time a child lets a parent out of sight, when they climb up the steps and go through the tunnel to go down one of the slides. It is also where they first begin to interact with their new peers. 
I also firmly believe that it does allow for progression, some children spend the whole of first term trying to get up the slide! Their play differs from term to term as they incorporate the slide into their scenarios, it can be anything they want it to be - a ship, a rocket, a house etc. 
The tunnel provides a quiet space for children to hang out just chatting to each other. We have created a reading space underneath it and this space is always in use.
They love to discover the joys of creating a water slide by pouring water down it for friends to whizz past them & it takes a certain skill to come down a very wet slide on a rainy day & manage to stop at the bottom!
Another big factor for advocating for fixed equipment is the set up involved in an engaging outdoor space, it already takes us around 20 minutes to set up without having to unpack and build a wooden climbing frame or slide, not to mention it saves our backs.
So, yes, in answer to Annie's question, I am firmly in favour of fixed equipment being used a piece to enhance an outdoor space but I don't think it should be the centre piece instead it should provide a backdrop to a much wider play experience than an ordinary standard playground could ever offer. The reason many playgrounds are underused it not because the equipment is useless but because it is not enhanced by moveable loose parts.

1 comment:

  1. We have several pieces of fixed equipment as well as a great collection of assorted loose parts. I have always thought that these fixed pieces do a couple things beginning with that signal "children play here" and also that they are so very well-suited for our younger children. Connecting it to the comfort that children need so much as they make that transition from home to school is something that I had not really thought of, so thank you.

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