Friday, 18 July 2014

Outdoor Play Party - Guest Post 2 - E11 Creative Workshop.

For the latest fortnightly Outdoor Play Party I am delighted to have an inspirational guest post from Maria & Alain Navaratne from the incredible E11 Creative Workshop. Please take time to explore this amazing school by following them on Facebook or checking out their website Maria & Alain created this unique choice based art school for children aged 3 plus in 2009. This post is a brilliant example of having a 'can do' attitude & will be a great inspiration for those who don't have access to outdoor spaces or feel overwhelmed by a small outdoor space. Maria & Alain have created a stimulating outdoor learning area in a small space by carefully placing open ended resources & have really connected their students to the local community by using the whole area as a giant learning environment.
No Outdoor Space - No Problem!

So, what do passionate outdoor play advocates do when they have a center with no outdoor area? 
E11 Creative Workshop moved to The Manitou Art Center in Manitou Springs, Colorado in December 2013. The benefits of providing children’s art services within our local Art Center were too exciting an opportunity to turn down. We have never had a space without a yard, we are huge proponents of loose parts play and our preschool program was traditionally an indoor/outdoor approach. But the invitation to work in this space was one we could not refuse. We transformed what was formerly a storeroom in a gallery into a beautiful working art studio for children. Now, what to do about outdoor free play, one of the most important aspects of our program? 
Before & After
In the great E11 tradition of repurposing just about anything we can get our hands on, that is exactly what we did to address our need for outside time. The Manitou Art Center is opposite an ordinary city park with an extraordinary, picturesque shallow creek running through it, shaded by huge trees. This provides an idyllic setting for our 60+ summer camp children to cool off, float handmade boats, construct dams and build riverbank hideouts. Twelve children ages 4 to 11 attend each day with a couple of Middle and High School volunteers in addition to two teachers, providing plenty of supervision for riverbank fun. 
One of the trickiest aspects of using the creek and park opposite is that a busy road separates us from it. 
Even though it is only 4 minute walk from our building to the river, we have a to cross this busy road. That was when we discovered the Manitou Free Shuttle Bus which loops around our small town delivering us safely from our side of the road to the creek. We couldn’t resist a little bus trip for our little and big kids and it has proved to be very popular. With a quick clean up after lunch we can ride the 12:41pm bus just along from The Manitou Art Center, loop around the town and get off on the other side of the road just opposite! This does sound ridiculous but when we have a group of 12 excited children playing eye-spy at the bus stop, big kids holding the little kids hands, clutching buckets and handmade boats, greeting Miss.Shelley the bus driver we do have a truly fabulous time! 

Now, how to provide an indoor/outdoor experience for our little school? Well, there is a little outdoor studio area just by our entryway. It has homemade rolling fences to separate it from the carpark of the Art Center, a patch of dirt, a tree and a decorated concrete patio with a few tables and chairs. We have slowly inched our way out of the studio, first planting some donated strawberry and pepper plants in the dirt, next putting out just a few pallets, oh and a trough for water play. Gradually we inched the fence a bit further into the carpark (I just know Bev Bos would be so proud of us), we got rid of all the tools and rubbish that the studio artists had dumped behind the tree and made a fine little hobbit hideout for the children to have private play time. 
Every now and then we find donated scraps of lumber or logs for the children to build with, presumably all our artist neighbors know what we are up to now! The studio artists pop by and have become a resource to our little artists. The month of June produced a lot of wooden swords which gradually became slicker and more refined. A few of our older children began to make mortice and tenon joints, engrave the handles with wood burning tools and sand their ‘blades’ out on the patio for much of the day. That is when they met Jordan the blacksmith and tanner who could show them how he makes real (blunt) swords for the Rennaissance Festival, including leather sheaths. He kindly gave demonstrations in his studio and then gave the children leather scraps to make their own sheaths.
This professional dialogue between two generations of artists only occurred because of our inching out into the outdoor studio. We have pretty scraps of fabric as tablecloths and our little community of artists sit and watch the play going on as they eat their lunches at their own leisure - our choice based approach includes not only art.
Today we dumped four bags of sand in a small trough. Our littlest children were thrilled to be playing with clean sand as they are more used to picking up great clumps of wet mud by the riverbank and forming it into balls to plop in the river or playing in the dusty dirt (next to the park’s clean, enclosed sand pit) that has sparkles of micah in it . We dream of our old gigantic sandpit and the complex waterways, dams and bridges we used to build, but back then we were probably fantasizing about funny field trips on a free city shuttle bus to a favorite spot by the creek. 
Maria & Alain Navaratne 
E11 Creative Workshop 
Manitou Springs, Colorado, USA
My featured post from the last Outdoor Play Party was from Adventure Togs on how to get even the most reluctant or real indoor children outdoors.
  • Any kind of children's outdoor play-related posts are welcome!
  • We'd appreciate it if you included a link back to this post (either in your post or sidebar) to help us spread the word about the importance (and fun!) of outdoor play! In return, we'll gladly further share your post on FacebookTwitterPinterestPlease feel free to grab the Outdoor Play Party button from the sidebar and/or include a text link back. 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. What a positive and inspiring blog post! Absolutely loved it!

    1. Isn't it just, how many times have you heard 'I couldn't do that, I have no outdoor space', hoping this will inspire others too.

  2. Some wonderful inspired and creative fun - how fantastic for the lucky children who attend. Thanks for linking up and sharing with Country Kids.

    1. An amazing place indeed, sometimes it's easy to forget lots of settings have little or no outdoor space but I love how E11 over came this. Thanks for hosting & commenting Fiona xxx

  3. Anonymous21 July, 2014

    Its a good thing that everything worked well. All the space and facilities that you need are right there when you need it! Goodluck with your new space! #countrykids

  4. You've done a great job with what you had. It looks like the kids are having lots of fun in your new outdoor space.

  5. Just goes to show you can do a lot with a little. Thanks again for featuring my post :)

  6. That creek looks like a fabulous place to play. Great post!

  7. Thanks everyone for the lovely comments, I will make sure Maria & Alain get to read them too xxx


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