Our outside play philosophy and area has become a huge talking point amongst parents since we opened. It is an area which has been built, extended and improved upon massively. Most importantly it’s a huge talking point for the children who have been little designers and influenced each decision we made. I am convinced we have some budding architects on our hands and I must say they did a better job than I could have done (phew)!
Our area started off pretty small, I can remember being really disappointed when we first opened – but actually looking back it has really worked in our favor as we have been able to carefully observe and ask the children how they would like the play space to look. When we extended our outside area the children designed their own drawings of what they wanted – amongst the designs were a roller coaster (Harry 3:4) a garden area (Ben 3:5) a magical unicorn (Jodie 2:9) a sand pit (William 2:11) and a shelter for when it rains (Toby 2:10).
Of course we would have liked to have opted for the roller coaster and unicorn – but health and safety legislation got in our way!
I took the children’s designs to our planning meetings. For example, Toby (2:10) had specifically said that the shelter would be best placed outside the back door so no water could get through! And William (2:11) wanted a rectangle sand pit which was very deep for treasure. After a few months the outside area was complete with a new shelter, sand pit and garden area amongst others – or so we thought!
But the love for voicing options and seeing their ideas come to life was going to be an inherent thread which has not left us since (and I hope it never does). The children loved the new space and new areas and played wonderfully in the area. One day Toby P (3:10) was in the building area and had a dilemma
Toby P “I have built a very important building and I am worried it will be knocked over and I really want snack”
Staff member “would you like me to look after it for you whilst you go inside to eat snack?”
Toby P “no I would like to watch it to make sure it’s safe and think of ideas to make it bigger”
Staff member “what should we do then; it’s important you have snack if you are hungry but it’s also important that you watch your building, how do you think can we solve it?”
Toby P “can I have my snack outside? If I go in really quickly to collect my food?”
Staff member “I don’t see why not; but where will you sit?”
Toby P “I can sit on a tree stump and have a bigger stump as my table”
Staff member “Ok, you go and get your snack and I will arrange the tree stumps”
After a while a few children came outside for snack and loved it, Toby proceeded in eating his lunch and tea outside as did a few other children. Tallulah (3:10) said “I’ve got a good idea, why don’t we make the shelter area our eating area?” And there it was a pre-school eating area was born; where children could have the choice to eat inside or outside for any meal times. We made some proper tree stump tables and a self-service shelf with a drink station. The children now have a choice as to which area they would like to sit in to eat!
In January 2014 our inspector from Northamptonshire County Council wrote:
“The children were highly engaged in the outdoor play experiences and most chose to take their snack outside in order to continue with their play. The child’s voice was respected and used to inform the design of the new outdoor environment. Waterproof suits and boots allow children to access the area in most weathers and the staff have a real passion for outdoor learning and enjoy being outside as much as the children.”
The child’s voice continued through the making of our magic potion kitchen. We have a magic potion station in the forest and the children asked one day for magic potions outside; we set up an area. Tallulah and Toby P wanted it out all the time and wanted somewhere “special” to leave their potions. They got drawing and posted their designed to Jake (my partner); who created a wonderful magic potion kitchen named the “Tallulah and Toby” kitchen.
Our outside area also has a Joshua and Arthur wall; named after two very active toddlers who spent their time transporting balls from one area of the outside area to the other using guttering. The toddler staff spoke to Jake who created jumbo guttering tubes of different heights for the children to post and collect balls and other items. Joshua currently enjoys experimenting with water down the pipes (balls are so last term!).
The most recent construction is our sand house. The children have noticed that in the winter and wet weather the sand gets too wet to play with! The children came up with a house design with a hard cover so they can use the house for a variety of activities.