Three years ago, I visited a rural nursery class which was part of a small school, in Lovčice village. I was able to view the outdoor spaces and see how natural features and materials were integrated into the design the outdoor area and impacted on play. Here’s one part of the grounds…
This is another part, with seating. The shed has an alpine turf roof. Have a look at the boulder scrambling area to the right of the shed…
The miniature cage in the photo below is for the paddling pool, which comes out on hot days for the children to use.
There was no fenced off area for the nursery children. They shared the same outdoor space as the rest of the school. The school grounds are not public areas for community access outwith hours unless prior agreement with the school has been sought.
In the Czech Republic, sandpits must be covered with a net or other material.
The nursery teacher was particularly interested in outdoor work and developing the grounds. This was evident from the features which were very play centred. She had begun in 1998 with the help of her husband, who is a forester, parents and funding from the village community. Several years ago she succeeded in setting up an agreement with the local technical college which means that the grounds are used for practical construction projects for students.
This tiny house is part of a miniature world area. The water wheel actually works thanks to the students creating it with pumping system.
Over the years students have built almost all the large structures to practise specific construction and landscaping skills. Another source of funding has been securing charitable status.
Some structures are on the wacky side of normal but this was used as shelving too!
At the entrance to the school the fruit and vegetable faces made a welcoming impact for parents and visitors. Each week the class had a different theme and this frequently referred to nature. Recently there had been a carrot week, when carrots were harvested. The previous week it was a potato festival.
The green potatoes which could not be used for cooking were made into creatures which lived on the zen stone garden. The whole school each year has a shared theme across all classes. This session’s project is water.
Outdoor activities continue to permeate all aspects of school life. The nursery children are always outside for a large part of every day, regardless of the weather. The school day begins in the garden. The children really enjoy gardening and always ensure the grounds are kept free of litter. When Council staff come to mow the lawn, and do grounds work, the children assist.
This is a little rope trail that is much loved by the children
They also look after the little orchard which is within the grounds. The teacher described her methods as “situation learning” with children reacting naturally to events, seasons and what’s going on in the world around them.
Making apple juice and drying apples are common activities, similar to North American cider festivals
Traditional customs and festivals are celebrated and shared at times with the local community. For example on International Children’s Day last year, the whole school dressed up as story characters including the adults and a story trail was set up through the local village. Overnight sleepovers in school create great excitement!
This is where the potatoes used to grow – right beside the path leading down to the playground
Every project is carefully planned in accordance with the local education guidelines. The staff document each theme and keep visual records to share with children, parents and visitors. Some projects may last a few days, others several weeks, depending on the children’s interests. Owing to transport costs, the children have just one annual school trip such as visiting a zoo. Thus very good use is made of the school grounds, local area and the skills and knowledge of the wider community.
This is one of my favourite features – a seating area with a sprinkler that can create a little paddling pool
The parents of nursery children do not receive annual or termly reports. Every child has a portfolio of work which includes records of likes, dislikes, progress in achieving key competences. The curriculum areas are: child and body; child and spirit; language and social skills; imaginative play.
These are the curriculum guidance documents, laid out for me to see!
Inside the school and nursery, there were clear signs that the world beyond the four walls was valued. There were natural materials used in displays. Children were able to use nuts and cones as part of their play indoors as well as outside and were expected to sort them back into their correct boxes at the end.
And here’s the outdoor equivalent. The sunken boxes were put in deliberately to allow children to walk over the natural materials in their bare feet.
Over the past 3 years, I have used these photos extensively during presentations, speeches and courses. This teacher met me at 5pm in the afternoon, such was her delight that I wanted to see the school’s outdoor space. The dedication and love that is put into an outdoor space like this one reflects the inner commitment of those involved to ensuring children have the best provision possible.
This is an outdoor shelter with an oven for baking!