Big playgrounds, small playgrounds, concrete playgrounds and grassy natural playgrounds. They can all support high quality outdoor learning. Generally speaking, playgrounds are always bigger than a classroom. We manage to teach in the concrete cube of a classroom and make that motivating; there is no reason why we cannot do that outside. So, this blog is all about ideas to help you make the most of your outdoor space!
Aberuthven Primary School has an exceptional playground. They only have a small space, but have thought about creating different areas. Their field is roughly the size of a tennis court. They have a tiny outdoor classroom out here. Running down the side of this is a slim strip that they use for planting, their mud kitchen, water tray etc.
Their small concrete area has some markings which can support learning. At the far end of their space is a small polytunnel greenhouse (which can act as another outdoor space). But the area I fell in love with is featured in our Upcycle Your Playground Document. It is their magical imagination area which was created with support from their community.
When I list their playground attributes like this, it sounds like a big space; it is not. They have just made the best of what they have through careful consideration and planning.
St Patrick’s Primary in Dumbarton are not short of space, but it is vast and open, which is not always ideal. They used pallets to create a unique outdoor classroom that allows for free-flow learning but helps keep children in the designated area.
Use The Barriers
Walls or fences can be sturdy and allow you to hang signs, chalkboards, water walls and more. They can also be used for hanging plants etc. Though some schools have problems with winds (Scotland is the windiest country in Europe, after all!), please think carefully before you do this and ensure things are securely attached!
Some playground markings can add real value to learning. The key here is to keep them open ended. A hopscotch grid with numbers can be used for traditional play, for practising times tables and number bonds, but not a lot else. A hopscotch grid with the outline but no numbers simply requires chalk and can be used to explore emotions, modern languages, help children learn about time, develop vocabulary, and so much more (see some ideas in our Hopscotch Ideas blog). The same is true for hundred squares etc. And if you do not have markings, you just need some chalk to get the children to create their own!
Keeping it Cosy
It is rare to find a perfectly shaped playground; most have wee nooks and crannies. A wee bench, or some logs that children can move, can create beautiful spaces where children want to hang out. Abertyne Primary and Cawdor Primary are both great at creating these nooks! Abertyne uses the natural layout of their playground with some planting and tyres to do this. Cawdor used a recycled weaving project. Both are brilliant!
Often schools have fields bigger than they require and want to create a natural area. Many go down the allotment/ gardening route, which is great. Some now, though, are creating Wee Forests. Wee Forest. A Wee Forest is a tennis court-sized, densely planted, fast growing, native species rich woodland in urban Scotland which combines the specific Miywaki planting method with long term school and community engagement through citizen science and volunteering. This is a great, low cost, but effective way to create greenspace. The Woodland Trust donates free trees to schools, so besides from the time commitment, this is a free project.
Creating amazing learning spaces with very little expense, space, or time is possible. They require a little thought, a dot of planning and a dose of advice. Our Upcycle Your Playground Document showcases some great ideas from schools across Scotland that could be used anywhere. While getting drawn into the big, expensive equipment and complex ideas are easy, there is always a simple, low-cost way to start. Piggyback the simple ideas!
November 2022 saw us open up applications for free support visits. They help to highlight how different areas of your playground can be utilised to support learning. We will attend your school to meet with your management team and spend around 30 to 45 minutes with them. During this visit we explore your playground, hear where you are at in your outdoor journey and discuss any challenges you may be facing. The report, which is 30-40 pages long, is also free of charge. Find out more and apply by clicking here.
Love Outdoor Learning offers a range of services to support outdoor learning and play in schools and nurseries. Its membership resources and publications provide a regular supply of fresh activity ideas, and we also offer on-site support through our free advisory visits. We also provide training to help staff develop their skills and knowledge.