In several of the courses I offer Early Years settings, I discuss the concept of zoning the outdoor area. This is not an original idea. Landscape architects who develop play spaces use zones to turn a “space” into a “place”. Each zone or area is managed for different play purposes.
During the past year, I have been lucky enough to work with the nursery staff at Southmuir Nursery as an RBS Supergrounds Advisor. Their nursery opened in November 2001. The outdoor area consisted of a flat tarmac, surrounded by a high wire fence and some rather grim soft landscaping plants in one corner. As a result of increasing the gardening space, the staff decided to re-think the zoning of the outdoor area. Here are the results….!
Firstly, the main gardening area is outside the fenced nursery outdoor space and beside the entrance to the nursery. There are several benefits here:
- The rest of the school can visit the gardening area without disturbing the children.
- It sends a strong message about how the school and the nursery value gardening.
The water play has been situated beside the garden, on the other side of the fence. It is right beside the outdoor tap. A hose is permanently available and can be used in the garden and in the water play area. There is a water butt and children can use the water here too. The height of the water tray has been adjusted so that a child in a wheel chair can access this resource. By sheer chance, the one dip in the tarmac happens to be in this area, creating a puddle too! The buckets contain a variety of different bottles and items for using in this area. The guttering is popular and plans are underway to create a water wall!!!
There is a mud zone. This has been expanded considerably. Children can dig in the soil or use the mud in the “bath”. There’s lots of pots, pans, stirring instruments and other resources in the area. If you look at the wall you can see one of the favourite activities – mud throwing! There are coveralls and wellies available so that children are suitably dressed for the activity.
The creative area is interesting. The back of this storage shed has been used as a storage place for natural materials. In each of the numbered bags there are different goodies including willow balls, shells, stones, sticks and twigs.
The seating is place for children to gather for drawing, snack and doing a variety of social activities.
Nearby, the fencing is used for artwork. The children are encouraged to photograph their work so that the next child can clean the perspex and create their own picture. I like the way hooks have been put on the fence so that the aprons can be stored here.
As with many nurseries using wheeled toys is very popular. The tractor tyres provide islands and the arrows indicate the direction of flow.
Beside the fence you can see more raised planting areas and fruit trees. Perhaps surprisingly these work well beside the wheelie area. They also soften the tarmac-fence landscape and stop balls and other little toys going underneath the fencing.
This little construction and small world pit is situated right beside a window. Children who are indoors and reluctant to be outside, find this a similar environment to being indoors as there are carpet tiles to sit on.
This is a very versatile resource – large wobbly logs. The children can sit here when putting on the “mud suits”. They are great for standing on and wobbling. But children can lie or work here too.
Another fence separates the quiet, wilder, sensory area from the more active parts of the outdoor space. This is a lovely exploratory area with overgrown plants to make pathways interesting. Herbs, bamboo and other interesting shrubs have been planted. There are plans for mirrors and other light catchers to complement the CDs and chimes.
The baskets are old hanging baskets that have been placed at ground level for outdoor containers in the sensory area.
As you have probably noticed, there is plenty of outdoor storage. This play house is used to store the suits and other materials than need to go outside daily such as the carpet tiles.
Finally, the zones have all been labelled. I think this is particularly useful for students and visitors coming to the outdoor space to help them understand the play value. The staff have found it easier to in terms of the planning and building on the children’s interests. They feel the re-zoning has led to better quality of play that is more purposeful.
I would be really interested to know how your organise your outdoor space. Do you have clearly identifiable zones? Have you noticed the difference in what children do outside when you reorganise your zones? I find visiting schools, nurseries and other settings fascinating this way.