Inspiration and action to change an outdoor space

12 June 2013 · 6 comments

in Developing School Grounds & Outdoor Spaces, Early Years Outdoors

This week is National School Grounds Week! What better way to celebrate than to share a good news story!

At the end of March, one reader, Joanne Cowan, got in touch to ask permission to use some of the photos on this blog to inspire her colleagues to make some changes to the outdoor space. She works at Black Horse Hill Infant School in West Kirby.

Here’s a good use for railings – add guttering to make mini ramps for cars, balls, water, etc.
It is always nice to see and hear from people who are inspired to make changes to their outdoor space. What I liked here is the re-use and re-purposing of different items. The staff in this school have demonstrated that how an outdoor space is used can be changed with a bit of imagination, searching the Internet and adopting a “Let’s go for it” attitude.

“We are a small Infant school based in Merseyside, with one Foundation 1 and two Foundation 2 classes in the Foundation Stage. I am Foundation Stage leader and was asked to revamp the outdoor area. I have a strong interest in outdoor learning, but it had been taking a back seat due to other pressures. (I teach full-time and am also Foundation Stage SENCO). I searched around the web and took most of my inspiration from you; I also found Pinterest to be very useful.”

“Over the Easter holidays I searched high and low for resources as we had a tiny budget; I bought from pound shops, scrounged from friends, and used charity shops and even the tip! When we went back I showed the staff a PowerPoint I had made using photos mostly from your blog. They were extremely supportive and took the ideas and added to them. I also asked the parents for donations of resources, and sent out a wish list.”

“I had a steady stream of resources coming in, and roped in my husband and son to do some of the heavy work for me! The area is still growing and being added to – I picked up a mini trampoline this afternoon that I got off Ebay for £3.60. I am going to bury it so that it is at ground level.”

“In the meantime, the children are absolutely loving ‘welly time’ as they call their time outdoors, and the problem-solving, co-operation, resourcefulness and FUN that they are having is absolutely wonderful to be a part of. All parts of the cohort, from our children with SEN to our brightest, our most active boys, and our quiet middle-ability girls, our shy children, our little ones that might otherwise slip under the radar, have been able to find their own place to be and their own learning to do. Last week I saw a big group of noisy boys washing the playhouse with water, bubbles and cloths; at the other end of the playground a group of girls was building a pirate ship out of pallets and crates, complete with storage for bottles of rum!”

“The photos show the sorts of changes we have made. These drums made from plastic plant pots, fixed into the ground with tent pegs. The beaters are old curtain rails with tape around the ends. Different sized plant pots make different sounds.”

“The bug house is made with old pallets and logs. Magnifying glasses and notebooks are nearby.”

“Abacus – airflow balls on washing line. I have also put curtain hooks and other bits and bobs onto similar ones around the area; there are opportunities to count to 100.”

“The weaving frame is an old plate shelf.”

“The pond is made from an old shower tray (Ebay) so it’s really shallow. We have put frogspawn in, they seem to be doing okay so far. The slabs are going to be sunk into the ground around this area too.”

“Our water wall is an old pallet with guttering and re-used bits and bobs. The water runs down a slope and into a drain. The pallet is securely attached to the fence to ensure it doesn’t fall over.”

“I call this our “ta-daa” area. We are hoping to build a stage out of pallets too…”

I love old basins for planters. They make a beautiful addition to any outdoor space and are incredibly stable.

Sometimes the simplest ideas work the best. This pipe attached to the fence makes for a lovely ball run or tunnel for posting items! Having a broom handle or stick near by in case of items getting stuck can help!

The use of paint swatches as a colour reference is a clever idea as they fit perfectly onto the fencing below!

As with any changes to the outdoor space, it is important to set up systems of maintaining the features. Wherever possible children can be involved in this process as well as planning for ongoing improvements. When big changes have been undertaken it is worth revising your risk benefit assessment of the outdoor space to see if any amendments are needed.

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{ 5 comments… read them below or add one }

Rosalyn Boyes October 11, 2013 at 20:06

Having met you on the Beach Schools Course during August in Robin Hoods Bay, I am inspired by the wealth of opportunity which living by the Sea provides for learning with children. I have attached myself to a local school which is approximately 1/2 mile from the sea. I am completing my portfolio with them and helping them to develop their outdoor space. The ideas on your site are fabulous. Thank you.


Susie Addison January 19, 2015 at 21:56

Thank you for your inspirational ideas. Enjoyed reading this, particularly as we are in the process of improving our outdoor learning environment….can’t afford to wait for it to be covered…need to seize the day (and the sander) and get on with it. Keep up the good work 🙂


Juliet Robertson January 20, 2015 at 19:14

Thanks Susie. All the best with your work here. Remember to take lots of photos before the changes are made!


bex August 26, 2015 at 16:35

Good for you. It is not what we have it is our relationship with it and attitude towards it. At our school we are in a similar situation..constantly on the look out for salvageable stuff. Love the simplicity of the Ta daaaaa area. Great you got parents on board to donate stuff too. Keep going..really cheered me to see this.


Juliet Robertson August 26, 2015 at 17:26

Thanks Becky

I’m delighted to hear that you are making the most of what you have. It’s so easy to assume we need gadgets, gismo’s and other features – imagination, a can-do bit of determination and a sense of fun – especially when things don’t go to plan make the difference. I think what I also find particularly inspiring is when children are actively involved in the ideas and creating of them. This is so empowering.


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