Watch this space!

8 April 2011 · 5 comments

in Developing School Grounds & Outdoor Spaces

Each year I choose to undertake a minimum of 20 days teaching to remain on the supply list for a nearby city. This is worthwhile as it enables me to keep my hands dirty and my expectations real about what is and isn’t possible when it comes to learning outside and in.

Next term I’m going to be involved in an interesting project on weekly basis from May onwards. I’ll be working in a large city school with 3 classes at every primary stage, one of which is a class for children with additional support needs. The school was rebuilt one year ago and so everyone is still acclimatising to the campus. Like so many new-builds in Scotland, the focus has been on making the outside area look nice but learning and play have very much been secondary considerations in the design, layout and features of the outdoor area.

I’m going to be working with three classes to develop this outdoor space as a place to place and learn:

Basically it’s a bit of tarmac, blank walls which may not have things attached or painted onto it, and a tall iron fence. I think the possibilities are endless.

The main focus of the work will be consulting the children in the nearby classes, observing how they use this space and using their ideas to make the area grow and take shape. It is going to be one big experiment.

I do not have a vision for what this space will look like as this depends so much on the children and staff and their interests and needs. This is not my space, it’s theirs. Er…I don’t even have a budget! It’s going to have to rely on what resources the school already has or that which can be begged, borrowed or donated. Oh, and being a busy person with other work commitments on all my other days, I don’t have the luxury of time. Even during my working day at this school I have time allocated to other classes and projects.

Luckily I believe that experiments never fail. They may not have the outcome we desire or are seeking, but this is not failure. However I feel I’m going to be working in a really real situation. This is what most teachers face when thinking about taking learning and play outdoors. Scared? Yes. Excited? Too right! Curious? Oh yes!

Watch this space!

PS Advice, tips, suggestions and ideas welcomed.

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{ 5 comments… read them below or add one }

Honey April 8, 2011 at 15:52

Is it possible to bring all kinds of raw materials after speaking with the children and seeing what happens?

If it’s not feasible to build during school…perhaps a community project where the children take “control” of designing, constructing, etc. Guidance to keep things ‘safe’ or within building guidelines and help would be nice but…let those that use it create it.

Or…perhaps materials that are just there to the side that the children can do with what they will…lumber/rope/pegs/etc ARE the play “toys” so its ever changable with what they wish to create.

Check out playscapes. I forget the addy but they have amazing ideas …especially the ones where the children have fluid/ever changing play areas.



wondersofnature April 8, 2011 at 18:35

My wish list would include:

as many loose play materials as possible; sand; water; support from the grounds staff-loose play materials can be seen as ‘messy’ and finally staff support and training for all staff that supervise outdoor play.

To encourage deep play and the best experiences possible can be hard for adults who keep wanting to make suggestions, lead the play and intervene in ‘discussions’.

I can’t wait to see what the pupils create…


Juliet Robertson April 8, 2011 at 19:51

Hi Honey

You’ve hit the nail on the head – this was one of my intended approaches. The challenge is the short timescale of the project. Really my job will be to kickstart the process and hopefully give the staff confidence to continue to evolve the area. This may well involve the wider school and local community in due course.

Thanks for your suggestions


Juliet Robertson April 8, 2011 at 21:13

Hi Julie

Agreed – loose parts are crucial. The mess can be “introduced” gradually if this makes any sense. I think there will be lots of experimentation here – the range of needs is huge and there’s mainstream classes too. But a truly inclusive outdoor space is something to go for.

Thanks for the suggestions.


child central station April 11, 2011 at 04:16

I can’t wait to see what you come up with! I’ve been collecting lots of ideas and inspiration, I’m sure you’ll have some great things to add to it! (


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