Palettes are “in” in the world of outdoor play. And Stramash outdoor nurseries are up there in terms of the creative constructions which are appearing in nurseries across the world. Last year at Fort William this amazing play station was developed. In the words of Cameron Sprague, Team Leader, “It’s all very simple, but the variety of levels, open-ended areas, suitability to loose parts lead to real world learning and social opportunities.“
The aim was to create a place where mud play was more than digging and more than a mud kitchen. The staff wanted a space where children could:
- Move and explore at different heights – check out the vertical pallets that have been attached to heavy duty poles, enabling children to climb up and over or simply sit on top. To put water into the water wall, a child has to climb up there to get it in. In the top photo – look at the bridge of pallets. There is a channel under the bridge on the right side of the first pic as well so children can introduce water into the billabong and others can stand on top and watch it come through as well.
- Begin to understand the concept of depth – digging into the ground is the beginning of understanding the concept of “below ground level” and that zero is another number on a vertical number line.
- Experience and follow the flow of water. From the water wall channels are created so that the water flows away down the slight gradient, under a palette and gathers temporarily in a little mud billabong. You can see a couple of buckets in the foreground of the photo below where this is. Also, if you look carefully between the pallets, you will see a blue pipe that is angled from the water wall. If the children want water to flow through that they need to purposely transport the water into it. It is just another opportunity to explore the flow of water that’s left open-ended for them to discover.
- Have space to move. The area can accommodate lots of children moving in through and around it. In the photo below, you can just see the kitchen table that provides a different height for mixing and manipulating the mud.
- Socialise on their terms. There’s also a palette den on the right hand side providing privacy and seclusion in an open area for private conversations and play.
- Enjoy investigating the mass of different objects. There’s a giant bucket weighing scale created from an old bunk bed ladder that is on hand when the children need to compare how heavy or light something is.
Like all good outdoor spaces, this area is constantly changing in line with the children’s interests and to ensure that any weakened structures are promptly sorted. In the three months which have passed since I visited, Cameron said:
“We actually just took the water wall down but we are hoping to rebuild with a more child led design as the elements of the wall were never something we all were happy with. We have been donated a sink which I’m hoping to get one of those Cosy water pumps hooked up to as well as some valves for the drainage pipe that children can open and close depending on their play.“
On the frosty December day, the area seemed strangely abandoned. You can see from the wear and tear it’s a much loved play space. But that week the children had been involved in building their fort. And on this cold and frosty day, this is where the action was…
Over the two and half years the nursery has been operating, the site is becoming populated with many semi-permanent play structures. For more advice about these constructions, please see the Loose Parts Play Toolkit.