Permanent Shelters in School Grounds

15 February 2014 · 8 comments

in Community Involvement, Developing School Grounds & Outdoor Spaces, Urban

All over the UK and beyond there are a wide variety of shelters to be found in school grounds. This post looks at some matters to consider if you are considering a fixed shelter and gives a range of examples which go beyond the standard shelters typically found in playground equipment catalogues.

Swedish shelter 2

Check what shelter you already have

Very often there are porches and other places which haven’t been considered for their shelter value. For example, in the photo below, the climbing wall is used as a shelter as it acts as a windbreak, as demonstrated by the head teacher at Inverallochy School 🙂

Inverallochy climbing wall

Decide the purpose of the shelter

Why is the shelter needed? I In the photo below, the shelter was specifically designed for babies to sleep in. Insulating mats, sleeping bags and blankets were laid out for this purpose.

Swedish sleeping shelter

Is it for shade during hot sunny weather? Or do you want the design to capture sunlight in interesting ways? The use of perspex and patterns can be integrated into a bespoke structure for making the most of the sun at different times of the day or year. Particularly if you can add Perspex pattern pieces to roofs.

Alfreton perspex shelter

This corner shelter is a common design in Sweden. Open fires are often situated nearby too, which adds warmth and comfort. This open-ended design is useful in that it can store a lot of rucksacks or other gear in the shed or hold quite a few children.

Swedish fire pit shelter

At the Secret Garden Outdoor Nursery, this beautiful yurt was erected to provide shelter during inclement weather.  The woodland used by the nursery is at the top of a hill. Whilst the views are great, the wind chill can be significant some days.

Secret Garden Yurt

Inside it has a wood burning stove, so it is toasty warm when this is lit. Look at the washing line with the rows of gloves!

Secret Garden Yurt 2

One of the most beautiful, bespoke outdoor structures I have encountered has been the Kinder Kitchen at Mindstretchers‘ Auchlone Nature Kindergarten. It was homely and welcoming. The attention to detail deserves a blog post in its own right.

Mindstretchers kinder kitchen

Mindstretchers have also created a temporary shelter. I like the use of the poles to provide support and the gentle incline and feel this design is adaptable to many situations.

Mindstretcher tarp shelter

The bespoke shelters at Inveraray Primary School are also unique with a lot of thought and attention to detail. To start with they have been made by a local company with locally available materials. As you can see in both photos, they have living roofs.

Inveraray shelter

Both shelters are more than shelters. They have significance in other ways within the life of the school. In the photo above, this shelter has been sited near the school gate for waiting parents as part of an approach to encourage walking. The writing etched on the benches reflects this message.  The shelter in the photo below is a Peace Hut and you can find out more here.

If you live in cooler climates, being able to safely light a fire or have a wood burning stove inside a shelter makes a huge difference.

Inveraray peace hut

Tipi’s are another option. Although temporary, a large, high-quality tipi can last several years. The one below is a play tipi in a Czech nursery.

Czech teepee

At The Coombes CE School, they have a tree house – Aspen Lodge, complete with electricity and floorboards.

Coombes Tree House 3

You can see the tree growing through the structure, which becomes a natural display area. Look at the log-lined windows too.

Coombes Tree House 2

Traditional buildings have a lot of value too when it comes to providing shelter. The one below is used mainly by the secondary aged children at Bedales, which has a strong outdoor philosophy. Look at the well-organised welly rack.

Bedales Shelter

Shelters which create a different microclimate

Glass geodesic domes provide a different climate. It is much warmer in here all year round. As a result Mediterranean and plants which like arid conditions are grown here and there’s comfy seating for the children too. This can be seen at Alfreton Nursery.

Alfreton Geodome

Polytunnels are normally considered for gardening. Whilst this is a great use, they can provide shelter and warmth which is welcomed if your school is situated in a cold place. They do need a reasonably sheltered place to be situated. In the photo below, the polytunnel was used as an outdoor display space for a whole school project.

Polytunnel display

Shelters for play

Some shelters belong to children – no adults allowed in without their permission. That was the situation with the brashing shelter below.

Swedish forest shelter

At Alfreton Nursery, this bus shelter has been incorporated into the roadway area. As you can see it becomes a storage place for the bikes and trikes too.

Alfreton Bus Shelter

So, when you are thinking of shelters outside, my advice is think what you need it for. Be creative. Be imaginative. Make it bespoke and reflect the values of your school. Involve the children in its design, placement and construction in any way possible. Use local companies and materials as much as possible. Above all, make it a place everyone wants to be.

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{ 7 comments… read them below or add one }

Juliet Robertson February 15, 2014 at 21:40

Please have a look at the structures from Tanglewood Devon – some really beautiful bespoke structures.


Juliet Robertson February 15, 2014 at 23:09

Another recommendation via Facebook:


Rachel (",) February 16, 2014 at 09:15

Love these, thanks for sharing! Pinned!
The Alfreton perspex shelter will create beautiful shadows. I’ve tried to do something similar on my classroom windows. We love spotting rainbows! – Rachel (“,)


Juliet@CreativeSTAR February 16, 2014 at 20:50

Thanks Rachel – really liked your photos.


Juliet@CreativeSTAR February 16, 2014 at 20:50

Highway Farm Activity Centre also have some super structures – 2 people have told me so!!!


Helen Robinson February 17, 2014 at 12:55

I don’t know if Simon is still making these, but they are beautifully made structures

And don’t forget living willow domes! I’ve always wanted to hang a parachute or similar on the inside of one to see how useful they can be in wet weather, and I love the fact that they are home to hundred insects as well as the children!


Juliet@CreativeSTAR February 17, 2014 at 21:03

Thanks Helen

I think Simon might be!

Yes – I pondered over including willow domes – and the use of a parachute with one, would certainly help in terms of being weatherproof! It’s good food for thought.

Best wishes


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