Hello Everyone

I wondered if you could help a couple of friends who have no pre-school experience and want to develop this outdoor space for visiting groups of 3-6 year olds. It's part of an outdoor education facility that is an old converted school.

The centre has a very limited budget. As the site is situated near a road, I've advised that the boundary wall cracks need fixed and the area made secure through installing proper gates and fencing where it matters. The other big expense could be a traversing wall by drilling holds into the boundary wall (see why below). The grass is a suitable surface for this, providing the foot holds remain 60 cm or lower.

What do you think? Would this be a priority for you? (Parents, teachers, pre-school staff, interested readers who are willing to give an opinion?)

As you can see from this photo there are a couple of concrete slabs, which I believe need to stay as they are something to do with the site drainage. But look...there's a wee bit of a trip hazard. Would you...
a) Leave it and point it out to visiting groups?
b) Add turf or some other material to make a slope rather than a step?
c) Put a fence or other boundary around it for a wee cubby, sandpit or play area?
d) Something different (and better)?

At the moment the site is essentially wet, mossy grass that's quite shaded from large trees, outwith the site. The trees within the site have been pruned...

The plan for the tree area is to create a low ropes course. This will act as an informal boundary to the rest of the site and will provide a taste of the challenging activities to come as the children return when they are older. Beyond the trees is a cycle area that may (subject to funding) become a high ropes course.

One person did suggest that the area should be zoned according to curriculum areas, e.g. having a literacy area, maths area, etc. But I feel a cross-curricular approach is more natural. Also, in my experience, children move things around. So adults can have these grand ideas yet the children interpret them completely differently...!

The next bit of good news is that the stone outhouse can be used for storage. Also there is an outdoor tap. If a hose is bought, water play is really possible.

I've suggested that the centre sticks to the "outdoor adventure" theme to keep it special and different from a standard outdoor nursery space. So, some possibilities include:
- Using old outdoor clothes like buoyancy aids for an outdoor dressing up box
- Having old paddles, karabiners and other used equipment as part of the loose parts available to children
- Putting an old sailing boat into the area for imaginative play. I like the idea of children being able to make flags and having pirate props nearby
- Using old sails for the children to make dens
- Having outdated ropes for free play
- Having large loose parts like crates, planks and tyres for obstacle courses and construction work

However PLEASE, PLEASE, PLEASE tell me your thoughts, ideas and suggestions. We're not looking for expert advice, just a suggestion or two or as many as you have time to write down. If you blog and have relevant posts, then add links to these. No idea is too far out to be considered.

Thank you, in advance!

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Comment by Juliet Robertson on September 24, 2010 at 4:37am
Hi Bobbi

Thanks for your comments. I checked out your website too as it's always good to see what folk do here on C&NN Connect. Is there a professional organisation for people like yourself? Here in the UK Learning Through Landscapes, the school grounds charity has established a network of consultants and facilitators. The Scottish group are going to be meeting early October to share ideas and developments.

I did suggest various ways of involving the local school in consultation process - not least because it makes for a stronger application when seeking grants and further funding. Also it means they will feel ownership of the area and might use the area more appropriately out of school hours (the site in the blog is at an outdoor centre). I've found a several books brilliant, but the Save the Children book "Starting with Choice" is fantastic. It can be read in a couple of hours with an accompanying glass of fine wine (or any other beverage). Afterwards, I really got the picture about consulting children and babies.
Comment by Bobbi j Geise on September 23, 2010 at 11:45pm
i think johns design ideas are right on. i also think it could be interesting to ask some of the children what they want to do when they go outside... if they are too young for this, take them on a walk in a park and see what they gravitate towards.... leaves, hills, mud, water, rocks... all these can get integrated into the site as the children develop their fine and gross motor skills. the design does not have to be complicated, just engaging and safe! exciting opportunities, let us know how it develops and if i can be of further assts. www.learningbynature.org
Comment by Juliet Robertson on September 21, 2010 at 10:25pm
Hi John

Every 2 cents is worth 2 cents so thanks very much for your suggestions. I'll be collating all of these and passing them onto the centre.

Best wishes
Comment by John Thielbahr on September 21, 2010 at 2:50pm
I am no expert, but looks like plenty of ground to do some great nature-based activities. As a non-expert in nature design, I would allow room for the kids to run from activity space to activity space. I would provide a space for random movable objects for the kids to use creatively to build what they want to build as they see fit. I would have a space for the kids to use for climbing and balanced walking above ground safely (logs, stepping stones or stepping stumps, rocks, mounds of dirt). Finally, I would have a space for the kids to be able to hide (trees and bushes; a big culvert pipe, etc. My two cents.

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