Pallets for Re-Purposing and Play

17 November 2012 · 3 comments

in Developing School Grounds & Outdoor Spaces, Gardening, Technologies, Urban

Back in September on the same day of visiting the Kate Greenaway Nursery and Glamis Adventure PlaygroundTim Gill and Paige Johnson kindly took me over to see the Canning Town Caravanserai at Canning Town. This is a really special site. To quote the blurb on the website,

“It is a welcoming oasis, hosted by locals, open to all visitors. It is a locally driven public space bringing together trade and training, performance, a community garden, a place to eat, drink and play.”



What I loved about the place was its makeshift feel. Lots of students have had internships working on different structures. I rather like the pebble store below. If you look in the distance hay bales have been used as temporary seating. There were stalls, sheds, a seesaw, sandpit, the longest table in London and even a temporary cafe.

There seems to be a trend at the moment for upcycling and repurposing wooden pallets. You can find all sorts of ideas for making pallets palatable and lovely examples can be seen on the Web Urbanist blog and Backyard Diva’s Pinterest pages. These are well worth a look for posh ideas for creative uses of this basic item. But here at the Caravanserai, the rustic outdoor uses were what I found appealing and transferable to a school or back garden.

Minibeast hotels are becoming popular projects in many schools. What is important is to site one near other habitats which minibeasts will like and use such as putting it on soil, near shrubs, beside long grass and under a native tree.

But there are other fabulous uses for palettes too. For example, should you need a raised bed, then have a look at this solution. The area underneath the raised bed is a useful storage facility.

For me, the best part of the Caravanserai palette project had to be this corner of the grounds. The palettes have been stacked up and down to create a really attractive feature. I think this would suit many schools who may want to experiment with temporary features before committing to something permanent.

This means that children can be actively involved in creating a structure with appropriate supervision and support. It is a construction project with real purpose. I also really liked the integration of raised beds into the feature. I think greenery, gardens and play work effectively together.

On the walls around the palette feature are wall boxes which can be planted up. The raised beds are interesting as some have been placed directly on top of the palettes. Whilst others have been sunk into the palettes. I think this helped make the feature stable. Nothing moved when you walked up and over it. Although there was a pleasant bouncy sensation.

I know a lot of educators may have reservations about using palettes in schools. However, like everything else, it’s perfectly fine with a little thought and planning which can be done through using a risk benefit assessment. If you are worried about splinters then the wood can be sanded down. If you look in the photo below, you can see that artificial grass rolls have been placed over a couple of the palettes. This can also help cover rough bits. I tend to check any palette before using and either remove any sticking out nails or hammer them down to a point where they are sufficiently flattened.

What also works is that this feature provides variations in height which can be hard to find in a flat tarmac playground. The individual palettes can be used for mini displays and small world play as the boy in the photo below is demonstrating. Every rock gathered has been carefully placed to create interest and it was like a miniature museum of specimens!

I would be interest to know of other uses of palettes in schools, more out of curiosity than anything else.  Please do let me know if your school has been “paletting” in some form or other.

Finally if you are looking for information about the safety and suitability of pallets for your projects, have a look at Pallet 1001’s advice here.

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{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Kierna C November 17, 2012 at 11:53

I love palettes & have several on the go at the moment, we have an imaginative play scenario on one, it’s just the right level for childrne to crouch around & play. Then others are stages for dancing, singing etc. Kierna

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Juliet Robertson November 17, 2012 at 19:06

Yes – we find our palettes are being well-used. The size and weight of them provide a good challenge for being moved around – upturned palettes are particularly enjoyed for balancing on. The nursery in my school have also had a piece of astroturf which has ended up on the palettes too.

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