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Developing a natural outdoor learning environment?


Guest allforthekids
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Guest allforthekids

I am a qualified teacher and employed in a maintained nursery - as a qualified teacher the ratios are 1:13 but I am luckier than some as there are 26 pupils (in each session) and two (non-qualified) adults as well as myself. I have recently been given the exciting task of improving our outdoor area - we have already resurfaced the playground but now comes the challenge of dealing with two largish grass areas. I am extremely lucky to have a healthy budget to play with but am conflicted about what to do with it - it would be very easy to have built a large 'play area' with soft surfacing built - I have no doubt that the children would love it and it would be safe and provide continuous provision with very minimal up keep. On the other hand I adore the idea of creating a more natural area: plants, boulders, logs, dens, mud kitchens etc. but this requires far more up keep and also far more adult management/involvement. I work in an area where children have very little opportunity to engage with nature and whose outdoor space is predominantly flat balconies, small gardens and pavements. I believe children have a right to engage with nature and also experiment to take risks in these environments. On the flip side the children I work with have significant behaviour issues, find engaging with peers very challenging and have limited communication and language skills - could they 'cope' with a natural environment. Could we as a team? Aaaaggghhh! Any thoughts, advice, success stories etc etc etc very welcome!!!

Thank you

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We were given an area that is almost all soft surfacing (not asked) and find it is great in the summer but very slippery in wet for freezing weather. So I would tend to stick with grass. In our previous building we bought plastic matting then grew the grass through it. That meant that it never got so worn down as it did without it.

As for flower beds, there are some plants that would cope with a reasonable amount of being walked on such as Galium Odoratum.

I have always had a yen for a bamboo clump for children to make dens and hide inside myself!

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The natural area every time would win for me, but only you can tell whether this could be sustainable.

Are there any other provisions that you could go and see in action to help you decide.

Given the fact that many of your children may have limited opportunities to experience the great outdoors, I would certainly try to do all I could to make it happen.

How exciting do let us know how it goes whatever you decide.:)

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Children with behavioural, speech problems will thrive better in a natural area, you do not need more staff. The natural area will be stimulating, thought provoking and an entirely higher level learning area than a soft, boring play climbing area which will only ever be just that.

 

It would be a no brainer for me

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Guest allforthekids

Thank you all for your replies. I have been to quite a few settings with amazing, natural outdoor areas and also a Forest School (I will be doing Forest school training in June - so excited!) - the only concern that this repeatedly raises is that they all have considerably higher staff/child ratios than us. I am so very aware that while a mud kitchen, for example, is a fantastic opportunity and can take learning to a much higher level it does require lots of adult support (not necessarily to be used but to deal with the aftermath!). We currently have three new children who soil regularly and that alone has really been challenging with only three members of staff...

Ultimately, I know I will be going with the option of a natural area - to be honest I think I knew that before I posted. I just have to take some time to really carefully plan what we are going to have and where. We already have a small hill so I will be using that, I will definitely be bringing in lots of plants (most especially bamboo as we have horrid, tall, metal fences that I want to disguise) and I want to incorporate some wooden climbing equipment too.

Does anyone have recommended websites for inspiration? Or companies they have worked with to design their outdoor space?

I will keep you all posted - thank you again for your replies!

Lauren

P.S. Can I post pics on here to show you what we have decided???

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how exciting...would love to see some before and after photos! (yes no problem posting to my knowledge!) I have no static equipment at all ...this means the children have to talk to each other and co-operate if they want to build a see saw etc! The mud kitchen needs VERY little supervision or clearing up. If you want a wooden climbing frame i would go for a company that supplies fallen trees. These are much more flexible and can drive the imagination of the children. Dens and smaller spaces also need to be provided for those who find communicating difficult. If you're worried about supervision buy a set of walkie talkies then you are in communication with each other all the time. Storage is a bit of a headache...you will need to think about what can be stored outside in the open and what might need to be put in a shed etc. (we use plastic greenhouses that the children can use themselves)

recommendations for companies ....cosy for wood/planks/wind proof clipboards/outdoor display materials

Have fun!

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I too am on the search for play ground ideas, we have moved from a beautiful garden area to a very large and boring tarmac play ground. I am currently searching for ideas and inspiration to put into a developmental plan. I have found quite a few ideas on pinterest. Like you I want to go with the natural things. I do consider ourselves lucky as we are in a very rural, costal area so our children have the most amazing opportunities to get out and about in the country and seaside enviroments. We are also just coming to an end of our first six sessions of forest school which has been AMAZING.

Good luck with your search and would love to share any ideas with you. :1b

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We got the opportunity to do some extensive work on our outdoor area last year. Because we were almost starting from scratch we used a company called Infinite Playgrounds ( we got quotes and designs from several but felt these were the best by far in terms of price and design)

Have a look at their website for inspiration, we are delighted with our outdoor area, very open ended ,natural resources that fully engage the children. The difference for us has been like night and day, can't recommended highly enough. We also used Cosy to stock up on some smaller resources like planks and bricks for large scale outdoor construction. They have a fabulous range of recycled and natural resources. Their prices are very reasonable although I have to say delivery was very slow on some products and I felt like I was chasing them a lot

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It sounds like a great piece of developmental work to be doing!

 

Just out of curiosity, you say there is you (QTS) and 2 unqualified other adults. The EYFs requires there to be at least one other minimum level 3 with a QTS and 26 children so you might not be meeting statutory ratios?

3.36 For children aged three and over in maintained nursery schools and nursery classes in maintained schools (except for children in reception classes):
• there must be at least one member of staff for every 13 children;
• at least one member of staff must be a school teacher as defined by Section 122 of the Education Act 2002 and the Education (School Teachers’ Qualifications) (England) Regulations 2003; and
• at least one other member of staff must hold a full and relevant level 3 qualification.

 

Cx

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I would highly recommend a book called 'creating a place to grow' from Learning through Landscapes. In fact for about 15 quid Id join LTL as it will give you loads of ideas and support.

The best advice I can give is give it time, this is not a quick project, it takes time and thought.

And yes, photos please!

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any natural outside area is great with or without a mud kitchen

but spending some time 'training' the children will pay dividends

mine are between 2 2/3 and 4 and if they get muddy most of them change themselves now, we do have waterproofs but we use these even if we are not playing in the mud area

 

mud kitchen doesn't have to involve gallons of water it can be a bowl with small cups and utensils, herbs, stones, bricks, cones shells etc but use real objects not plastic

 

have fun

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As Suer says a mud kitchen is great but doesn't have to be too much mess, I don't think ours has seen anything but sand...we have a dumpy bag by it and they love transporting themselves in wheelbarrows as the decide they need more, we have utensils, pots, pans ...we have a couple herb pots, they collect leaves, grass, acorns to mix in, and we set it all up on a pebble base, put out a request to see if any parent could get hold of a wooden cable drum for a table....they came up trumps with 2 and a set of smaller ones too :) has been a very positive experience and so little work involved, and the children love washing up :)

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Guest allforthekids

UPDATE!

Thank you all SO much for your replies/tips/recommendations etc - they have all been really useful.

Griffclan5 - Infinite playgrounds are wonderful - I am especially inspired by their use of colour and light!

Well I've been busy!!! I have been reading morning,noon and night and looking at loads of websites for inspiration. I have an idea now of what it is I want to achieve and some elements that I definitely want to include in our new outdoor space. I have set up a very small and simple 'natural kitchen' (no mud at this point!) which consists of an old wooden kitchen, pots and pans, wooden spoons, pine cones, pebbles, sand and grass - I cannot tell you how much the children are enjoying this new area. I had a fantastic 'wow' moment with one of our most challenging and least 'verbal' boys - stood at the natural kitchen, combining 'ingedients singing (YES SINGING!!!) 'twist, twist, squish' - I am not ashamed to say I welled up. I was also lucky enough to be able to share this experience with his parents at the end of the session - they were chuffed!

I have created a document for my headteacher with some visual inspiration (a bit like a 'pinterest' page) and some relevant quotes - just to get the ball rolling and ensure that she understand my vision...I would love to share it but can't work out how to!!! (Any tips?)

I will keep you all posted about how we are getting on...

In the meantime I have another challenge to chuck into the mix! I have recently changed our planning format to include child initiated play - one adult caries out an adult direcred activity, one supports and engages in 'rolling snack' and the other observes and engages in child initiated play (possibly looking at ways to extend play if appropriate). We plan through half termly topics (we are currently doing 'toys') and I am finding this limiting - well infact I am thinking less and less about the topic... I still often base our end of session carpet time on the topic and have set up a toy shop etc but increasingly I want to think less about the topic and more about what the children are doing on a daily basis. Now I know ultimately this is good practice but I wondered what inspiration (other than a half termly topic) people are using and also how they document this - most especially in term of medium and short term planning...I have really enjoyed topic based learning in the past (and so have the children) but I am pretty certain that this was because it was part of a more rigid and constrictive approach and therefore provided clear guidelines for activities etc.- now that i am motivated by a more holistic appraoch to childrens learning and also developing the natural outdoor learning environment topic learning seems to have less of a place!

Thoughts/ideas/crticisms all very very welcome!

x

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So glad u went for a natural kitchen and had a wow moment, it will be I promise the first of many

 

My other purchase would be some community playthings large hollow blocks they are a never ending soure for all my children

And that too will give u wow moments xx

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Guest youngrisers

We are very lucky in that our school site has two field areas and a large natural wood with deciduous trees and evergreens. We visit the woods or field areas every week whatever the weather always wearing waterproofs and wellingtons. Best thing we ever did was buy a wellington rack which the children access by themselves. They know that prior to going out it is waterproof and wellingtons for any adventure outdoors. We plan and walk across the local field about a mile to visit the local arable farm and duck pond. The children love it!

When back in class we review our treasures such as natural resources, leaves, acorns, conkers and so on using the science tray equipment. We look at the video and photographs of our adventures and discuss what we saw, what we found, dug up, and brought back to school. We have made an A3 size forest school portfolio which the parents love to look at and the comments are varied from "amazing to outstanding", to "reminds me of my childhood" especially from grand parents.

We plant various crops throughout the year to grow and harvest these too, so far cauliflowers, runner beans and peas plus carrots and some great potatoes seem to be the best crops to grow in our tubs and planters.

Our natural kitchen has been mud, clay and soil where most children have accessed and played happily mixing and making various concoctions, we even cook in the woods making popcorn and Eggy bread with cinnamon delicious!

Our waterproofs are used for water play too as some of our younger two year olds get very wet experimenting with containers and hose pipes so wellingtons are always available.

Both outside areas immediate vicinity to the classrooms are soft surface but the woods and fields are as natural as they come insect and birds included.....

 

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  • 2 months later...

Dear all,

 

We're delighted to hear this feedback, and so pleased that your experience of working with us previously has been overwhelmingly positive. As a thank you, any order we receive for playgrounds, canopies or fitness equipment that quotes 'EYFS Forum' will receive a 5% discount.

 

For more information, please see our website; www.infiniteplaygrounds.co.uk

 

Best wishes

Claire McAuley

Infinite Playgrounds

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