Recently I blogged about 12 Tough Resources for Outdoor Play and Learning. One of the criteria I used for my decisions about whether a resource was suitably tough was whether it could be left outside in all weathers. Now this is all fine and dandy if you can leave resources outside.
In some settings left out resources can go AWOL or end up being used in a highly inappropriate way such as part of a fire starting experiment or being chucked through windows. Given that it took three months of my pestering my husband to procure the stumps in the playground where I work, it would be very disheartening if they had disappeared overnight.
So there’s an element of creative solution-focused thinking when it comes to outdoor play provision.
Here’s some suggestions and ideas
1) Get a shed
This needs to be sited in a handy and convenient place. If it is the other side of the school to where the resources are needed then it’s is a hindrance. Sadly the really tough sheds and containers rarely look aesthetically pleasing. If you go for painting them, make sure the design is simple, the children are involved in all aspects and that you can immediately remove and/or paint over graffiti should it happen. Check there are at least 2 keys for a shed and it can be easily opened and closed. Double doors work best on the horizontal side as in the photo below, for ease of access. Keep it tidy and accessible.
come with large double doors on the length of the container rather than its width
2) Organise your inside space to make it easier to move resources in and out.
Liaise with cleaning staff what would work best for them in terms of cleaning. For example if you pile up a heap of resources on the floors, the cleaner may not be able to clean the room. Ideally the resources for outside need to be located near the door that is used for accessing the outdoor space. Remember the emergency exit regulations in your school and do not block these with resources.
3) Think about how resources are brought in and out and accessed when outside.
Be mindful of ramps, steps and other surface hiccups. The Smartsack pegbags are great for involving children. I’ve seen 3yr olds carry them up and down stairs independently. Little rucksacks work well. Suitcases can be helpful too. Be wary of trolleys which claim to be “outdoor trolleys.”
- How accessible the resources are by children when outside – for example shopping trolleys and some types of PE trolleys are pretty useless for this purpose.
- Whether the resources stay on the trolley during transit? Otherwise you may end up with a trail of items in your wake.
- The wheels – are they wimpy little wheels which will break within a couple of months or off-terrain toughies? Do they have easy to use yet effective locks so they don’t run away when stationary?
- The weight balance and how easy a trolley is to manoeuvre when full.
- Look for sharp corners and edges and consider the damage done to both parties if the trolley runs into something else or a child.
- The play value of the trolley itself. Can it be used by children in their play and in how many different ways?
4) Decide how much time is needed to set up and clear up in the outdoor space.
Involve the children as much as possible in setting up as this is an opportunity for collective decision making about what needs to be taken outside and why. Tidying up and putting resources away is also a habit which can be developed. Encourage children to take photos of their creations so that the play can continue the following day on things which have been started but not yet finished. Have brief planning and review sessions which build upon this experience, for example through the Mosaic Approach or Talking and Thinking Floorbooks.
5) Enjoy water play.
If an outdoor tap is not available bring out a 10 litre can of water. There are ones with taps where the water trickles out and caps so that the water doesn’t spill out if it is knocked over. Buy stretch willow lattice from a garden centre which can be attached to fences and strong drainpipes using decent velcro. This can be used to create simple water walls as shown in the photo. Tuff trays can be used for collecting water, artificial puddles and other shallow water experiences.
6) Create different surfaces.
This can be done on a small scale. One advantage of this approach is that the surfaces or different play areas can be moved around the play area and gathered up after every session. For example, putting one bag of sand on a tarp can provide sand play at ground level. Shells, gravel, bark chips, soil and coffee beans can also be used in a similar way. Cosy stock square metre planks which can be slatted together to create a more structured area and to avoid spillage if needed.
7) Set up ropes lines for pulley work and transporting materials in a different way around parts of the outdoor space.
Lines high up also work well for dangling hoops, bike tyres and other resources for clambering through. Another good example of putting rope up high is for creative mobiles such as this Building Down with PVC activity.
8) Make dens, nooks and crannies using tarps and other material.
Attach to fences, windows (with care) or over a rope line. This can be a place to create a natural area with different surfaces. It is also easy to make tripods from guttering pipes, long sticks or broom handles.
9) Ensure there are sufficient open-ended portable resources.
It is great for children to make decisions over what resources are needed outside. Ensure there are a good range which include outdoor dressing up props and accessories, music, art materials, various gym equipment, lots of natural materials, exploratory resources such as magnifying glasses and bits and pieces which can be used for spontaneous literacy and maths activities in children’s play as well as for a structured activity. This does not all need to be outside every session, especially in small spaces. Rotating resources in line with children’s interests works best.
10) Be prepared to experiment.
When I work with such settings, I do encourage an element of experimentation around finding out what can stay outside. The reason for this is that there is a rarely a blanket approach to acts of vandalism which take place in different ways for different reasons. I’m also fascinated when I visit neighbourhoods where one school can leave resources out and the school which is a five-minute walk away cannot. I have also visited many schools where bedding plants are left to bloom and daffodils come up each year yet these schools have lots of out of hours visitors. Saying that don’t spend lots of money on expensive items. Instead spend wisely on tough products and having them properly installed in the ground (er, this is also another blog post in itself)!