A Naturalised Outdoor Space for Babies

16 May 2016 · 2 comments

in Developing School Grounds & Outdoor Spaces, Early Years Outdoors, International

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Whilst there is a trend towards naturalising outdoor spaces, as a general rule, there are less good examples around that have been developed for babies.

Ideally, outdoor play spaces work best when children can choose which part of an outdoor space to play and are not confined by age. What matters is that there are a variety of different inviting zones and some of these are areas where children who want or need a calmer place to play can go, including babies.

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Look at this lovely hiding space behind the tree – just right for a baby to find and clamber into.

At the Kookaburra Korner Early Education Centre, the outdoor space underwent a complete redesign by Inspired EC last year. The soft play surface that covered all the ground (wall-to-fence wet pour rubber) has been replaced with an attractive naturalised play space. The children have much more freedom to move between the former play zones. To facilitate this, all the fencing has peekaboo holes at different heights and shapes – as you can see in the photo below.  This enables children to see through to other areas and thus adds to the invitations to play! The Wombat area featured in this blog post was designed with babies in mind – enjoy the photo fest…

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The main difference between this and the other play areas in the outdoor space is around scale and surfacing. The variety of surfaces in the Wombat area is noticeably higher than in other parts of the outdoor space. For example in the above photo you can see the mud play area surrounded by mesh and bark chip. In the background there is some planting in a different area.

Yet when you look closer you can see a beautiful mosaic path through the shrubs. The children have to learn to brush aside the plants as they move through this space.

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The sandpit is another example of the variety of surfacing. You can see a small patch of grass and this leads onto wooden decking around the sand pit. This acts as a spill zone to stop sand spreading far and wide. The sand is at a slightly lower depth, meaning a child has to think about how he or she gets in and out of it.

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The stream is a wonderful feature. Look at the low level stone work. The babies have to learn to negotiate the sides of the dry stream to access the water. The mud area is where the water collects so that children can have wet messy muddy experiences should they wish.

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And see how the water enters the stream! The staff can turn on the water in another part of the garden. It is piped into the fence and out of the man’s mouth! This is situated at a height where a toddler could come and explore the face and enjoy trying to block the flow of water.

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The play house in the corner of the garden has been adapted. The roof has been replaced with perspex.

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When inside, you can look up and see the trees above. The roof lets much more light and nature into the house.

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This is in stark contrast to the other play house which has a traditional wooden roof and is in darkness with only the small square windows allowing in light. Also if you look closely, the small steps have to be negotiated. So the level of challenge to access this play house independently is higher for a baby or toddler.

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My favourite feature of all was this beautiful re-purposed archway. It is big enough for a small child to walk under but it is so appealing with the climbing flowering plant and the possibility of trying to climb it.

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I would love to know about other naturalised play areas for our youngest children. If you have or know of a good one, please let me know.

Many thanks to Louise, the director, for taking the time to show myself and Niki Buchan around the nursery last year. It was a treat!

Baby outdoor

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{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

DEBRA ANGEL January 3, 2017 at 13:04

I operate a family day care service with children mainly 18 months to 3 1/2 years. I would like to know how to keep outdoor loose parts play “safe” for children under the age of 2yrs.


Juliet Robertson January 8, 2017 at 00:18

Hello Debra

I’m sorry it’s taken me a few days to respond. In brief, common sense is the tool – have items which are too big for children to choke on as little children like to put small items in their mouths and occasionally up their noses too. Keep the size of everything proportionate to the children’s development – so a 50cm drop is much more to a baby than to a 3 year old. Janet Lansbury’s blog is well worth a look about this sort of thing. Always wash thoroughly any loose parts such as unwanted household items prior to making them available for children’s play. Don’t let water become stagnant – keep fresh. Do daily checks for hidden creatures in the outdoor space, broken items (discard if unfixable) and so on… these are off the top-of-my-head suggestions so bear in mind it’s an incomplete list. It may be worth buying Lisa Daly’s book “Loose Parts – Inspiring Play in Young Children” from the US. The Loose Parts Play Toolkit can be downloaded for free which also has practical suggestions for all ages. Niki Buchan is one of many experienced education consultants who is Australian based and could advise further, as could Inspired EC who revamped this space.

Best wishes


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