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.
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 🙂
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
At The Coombes CE School, they have a tree house – Aspen Lodge, complete with electricity and floorboards.
You can see the tree growing through the structure, which becomes a natural display area. Look at the log-lined windows too.
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.
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.
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.
Shelters for play
Some shelters belong to children – no adults allowed in without their permission. That was the situation with the brashing shelter below.
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.
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.