Through this blog and local Teachmeets, word has spread amongst colleagues that there it is worth coming to see how we 'do' outdoor play at our nursery, so invariably most weeks we have visitors who spend time watching how the children use the playground and what resources we have provided or acquired.
The one thing I always stress to anyone visiting is that our playground didn't start off looking like it does now, it has taken 10 years to get where we are physically and in that time period my practice has evolved a lot too.
It is always great when someone comes to visit and 'gets' the area immediately being able to see the potential in it and understand how much it contributes to the level of engagement from the children. But every so often, people do come along who are obviously horrified by the 'state' of the space - it is messy, it is dirty and it is well used. It is often pointed out that if I was at the front of the school or on show I probably won't be 'allowed' to have such a space! I like to think I would - anyone spending time in the space sees that it provides endless prompts for play.
If you are someone who likes clean lines & tidy spaces then a playground full of loose parts is going to be very hard for you to embrace but if you can stick with it and resist the urge to keep tidying up, I promise that you will start to appreciate the 'mess' when you see how much stimulation such a space offers to children.
There is a fantastic free downloadable resource from Learning through Landscapes called 'This Place Looks Like a Building Site' (available here:http://www.ltl.org.uk/resources/results.php?id=643) and I believe every principal or manager should have a copy of this so they can see why their outdoor space needs to messy rather that a pristine space.
We do have to have some rules about the use of loose parts of course. After numerous incidents involving the real crockery and the tarmac, it is now agreed that it's best to leave the crockery in the house corner and just use the plastic unbreakable stuff in the wider area. The children also know not to throw the large hollow blocks about or they will splinter and break but most other resources were sourced free so can be moved about e.g. tyres, saucepans, pots, crates, sticks etc.
I always advise taking small steps in the revamp of a playground, add whatever you can source first then just keep adding more and more 'stuff' as you find it or buy it.
We now have an almost permanent fire circle at the bottom of the playground for our weekly camp fires or birthdays (we have the cake outside with the birthday child sitting on the big throne) but the stumps are moveable and so some days they will be rolled about to make something else by the children.
I firmly believe that it is best to let a space develop over time and it needs to allow for the group of children in the class at the time to feel ownership of it. So here's to lots of messy fun times & who knows what this space will look like in 10 years time!