Maisie’s Children’s Centre is an Aberdeen partner provider nursery. During the past year one part of their outdoor space as had a complete makeover. Here’s the before photo:
And here’s the after photo. Both were taken by Pauline Smith 🙂 (Thanks for sending them to me)
I’m particularly pleased about this redesign for a number of reasons.Firstly, whilst the area is open to children aged 0-5, there is a greater focus on the Under 3’s. It’s hard to find examples of natural play areas for our youngest children here in Aberdeen. So this is a bit of a local treat and if you are based in Aberdeen or the Shire, then you must pop down for a visit! The photos in this post show one half of the outdoor space. The other side is wilder with big overgrown shrubs and makes a good contrast to this outdoor space.
Next, Pauline Smith was the designer and project manager. Pauline is a teacher at Inverallochy School and took the lead on the development of the school grounds. This began almost 5 years ago when she attended a Grounds for Learning course I was running. Anyway, she got so into the process, that she’s completing a landscape design course. She gets what children want and need in an outdoor space. This is her first paid piece of work and I think she’s done a really good job for starters.
Lastly, Maisie’s Children’s Centre is one of my Wee Green Space establishments. You’ll have seen several posts about their sessions at the beach here and here and here. One aspect of the Wee Green Spaces project is that we have been encouraging staff to think about making links between the children’s experiences of their off-site sessions, their outdoor space and the indoor space back at the nursery or school. So as you can imagine, there is a nice big sand pit…
If you look at the design of the sandpit, there’s some good features. Look at the decking. It is a the same height as the grass so that babies can crawl, shuffle or roll onto the decking and straight into the sand. It also provides a natural spill zone so that the amount of sand moving onto the grass is minimised. The upright logs are all at different heights thus older children who wish to balance along these are suitably challenged. I’m hoping that a couple of pulley posts will be added in the future once this area is being used and everything settles down.
To one side of the sand pit is a wandering stepping stone path. I like these because they invite children to move along the space in different ways – many children want to jump or hop along such paths or will readily count the number of stones without an adult suggesting they do so. The stones lead to what will become a den surrounded by planted bamboo.
The den and bamboo area naturally link to the mud patch with a kitchen ready to go. How different features are connected within an outdoor space affects how children play. They like to transport materials from one place to another so I always rather like a den in sight of an outdoor kitchen.
The shelter is quite a prominent feature in the space. It is low enough for little children to pull themselves up or step up onto. In due course, it would be easy to add a simple ramp to allow the crawlers and shufflers to access the area this way and to allow for investigations with an incline.
On a sunny day, the shelter is particularly attractive as it has a funky perspex roof. It is one in the Infinite Playgrounds range. I like that the coloured shadows will change and move during the course of the day, just as all shadows do. Below you can see what the perspex panel looks like from below.
Beside the shelter is a music area. As well as a vertical hanging space, nearby there’s a wooden xylophone and the sitting logs have a hollowed one which means when it is banged with a heavy beater or stick, it sounds different. The photo was taken by Pauline:
The planting schemes are interesting too. The plants chosen are a good mix of herbs and others planted for their multi-sensory value. You can also see the sitting logs in the photo below. They are also a useful divider between the music area and the garden.
Within the sensory planting there are stones and tyres. The tyres are fun in that each one can be a mini viewing station. Look through the tyre and what do you see…
In the photo below, I like the sweep of the path. There is something more aesthetically pleasing about curves in outdoor spaces. What the photo doesn’t show so well is the variety of surfaces across the outdoor space such as gravel, short grass, long grass, decking, sand, mud, bricks, slabs, etc. With little children a variety of surfaces is useful for exploring the environment.
There is also a separate part to the garden. If you go beyond the fence, there is a play house waiting to be discovered.
As the grass has been left to grow long, the centre has put a minibeast hotel there – just a small one, which will also probably grow and change in time, once children really start using it.
The water play in the outdoor space also interests me. Below you can see the runout area for the water. It’s a little splash zone! The boulders provide informal seating and I would hope that the staff will use the area also as a fire circle as it seems a natural group gathering spot.
Either side of the chute you can see gaps – again, this allows children who are not ready to step over the boulders access the splash zone and to do smaller scale investigations with the wooden channel.
The water area continues beyond the wooden channel. I’m taking the photo from just beside the outdoor tap. As you can see there is a water wall – but it can be accessed from either side. I would love to observe children playing here and find out how they use this space.
So I look forward to seeing this outdoor space being used – places like this always take a certain amount of time to bed down and then change and grow in line with the children’s ideas and interests. I hope you enjoyed the tour.
Maisie’s Children’s Centre is part of Voluntary Service Aberdeen (VSA) – the largest charity in the north-east, an umbrella to more than 30 life-changing social care services. VSA supports thousands of the most vulnerable people in the community, reaching out to newborn babies, children with additional support needs, young and adult carers, adults with mental health difficulties and older people. The services include a nursery, school, play schemes, respite, advice, care homes, day care, respite opportunities, a bookshop and, of course, the farm.
VSA’s support means:
- Children and families can build better futures
- Carers, both children as young as five and adults, can juggle everyday life with caring responsibilities
- Children with complex disabilities, like autism, or additional support needs, like Down’s Syndrome, can get just as much from life as their mainstream counterparts do
- Children with separated parents can live in harmony
- Adults with disabilities and mental health problems can live confidently and happily
- Older people can lead fulfilling, dignified lives as independently as possible