Displaying the potential of the outdoors inside

5 May 2012 · 4 comments

in Art & Music Outdoors, Early Years Outdoors, Nature Play & Learning

Yesterday I had the privilege of being one of the keynote speakers at the Durham Early Years Outdoors Conference, Stimulating Spaces. Owing to logistics and necessity, the conference organisers had to hold the event inside a training venue. Through the use of beautiful displays and posters, they and the workshop providers provided lots of ideas for using indoor spaces to promote the excellent work happening outside.

This banner hung over the canteen
This can be helpful for practitioners in its own right. Very often the images and the look and feel of an indoor space tells visitors, parents and children about the ethos of a centre, its values and activities. Inspiration for indoor displays and environments can be part of a wider approach to spreading the word about the educational benefits of outdoor play and learning.

The Woodland Magic workshop was held in a room that was green and dark – just like a woodland! Branches, logs, leaves and other natural materials were used as part of the display along with camouflage netting and the den below to create a foresty feel.

The use of fairy houses, books and other materials were a rich source of possibilities to help children connect their woodland or Forest School experiences with their play back at their centre.

The workshop leader, Gemma Edwards showed how parents and other people had got involved in extending the creative experiences. Look at the fairy den below!

Tessa Fenoughty led a workshop called “Down the Garden Path” which gave practitioners ideas about transforming an empty outdoor area into a rich learning space.

I love the use of topsoil on tarp for a truly earth look. If you want to do this, use shop-bought topsoil which has been sterilised. Otherwise you may find your indoor space alive with all sorts of interesting soil minibeasts within a day or two.

I’ve used lattice extensively outside for displays and for climbing plants outside, but look how effectively it’s been used in this room.

Every participant received a pot and also a stem of willow…

There were two workshops which focused on community-based projects of very different sorts.

Kirsty Wilkinson provided lots of ideas around big and little loose parts. Her workshop was called “Discarded remnants or Unexpected treasures”- the title says it all 🙂

It was all about using found, reclaimed, recycled and natural resources to stimulate creative exploration and representation in any environment. I have to admit that when I see pipes and guttering my heart does skip a beat!

One local nursery had made this amazing alligator – the scales are milk bottle tops that slot perfectly into this bore pipe…

The other community project was story told by Catherine Worton, head teacher of Trimdon Grange Infant and Nursery School. It was a refreshingly simple example of a child-centred project that began with washing the toy cars in the outdoor space. This turned into a wee enterprise where the children moved on to washing several of the staff cars in the car park. From here the children visited nearby car washing facilities and even experienced being in the car as it went through the rollers!

Catherine highlighted the quality of the learning that happened particularly the science and literacy aspects of the activities.

From here, the children visited a multi-storey car park and examined what they saw. Back at the centre, the blocks were used by the children to create a beautiful multi-storey car park of their own, complete with signs, a ticket machine and other environmental print they saw.

Finally, Anne Brass led a very moving workshop about the impact of Beach School projects that have just begun in recent months. It included a beautiful video of the children’s experiences on their local beach over four sessions last November and December.

I really liked the sea and sky drapes covering the windows. If you look carefully there’s a kite on the ceiling…

The stone stack built in the floor display really did stay up all day! Look at the use of hessian, driftwood and marram grass…

Each participant received a homemade seashore identification chart on a key ring that was specific to Durham County’s seashores and coast.

I really liked this display… the camouflage net complements the seaweed and the stone mats have been placed inside builder’s trays to create the rock pool effect. The identification keys stick up around the periphery at the front of the display within the pebbles.

Naturally no UK seashore display would be complete without lobster pots donated by a local fisherman…

And don’t forget the fun we all have playing on the beach. The sand was laid on top of hessian (burlap) to create this beach…

Finally, in the canteen, the the pillars had been wrapped in chicken wire, with ribbon covering the ends at the top and bottom. Those are real flowers that have been put into the wire to complement the flowers on the tables.

We often talk about people going an extra mile in terms of effort… I’d say the workshop presenters and conference organisers went an extra marathon! Thank you very much for such an inspirational event.

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{ 3 comments… read them below or add one }

Kierna C May 5, 2012 at 12:20

What a lot of effort went into the different display – great to see & thanks for sharing with us all.


Niki Buchan May 5, 2012 at 13:13

Amazing what you can do with some effort – always sad when conferences about outdoor play are held in indoor spaces where it is hard to feel that connection….they did a brilliant job in the allowed space!


Crafty Green Poet May 9, 2012 at 07:48

what amazing displays, so creative!


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