One repurposed resource which withstands a lot of wear and tear is the cable reel or drum that is used to store electrical wires. They are very flexible pieces of outdoor “furniture” which are worth seeking out in your local area. With sanding and painting, they can end up looking rather smart. Certainly a quick search on Pinterest or on the Cosy website will reveal all sorts of uses. I saw the rather lovely layout of painted reels above when visiting Christchurch, New Zealand last year.
In this post I want to flag up the creative ways that the Stramash Fort William Outdoor Nursery has been using cable reels. Whilst rustic in their look, the play and learning value is high when their use is carefully considered. In the words of the Team Leader, Cameron Sprague, “I do have a fondness for the industrial look. In my head I want objects to appear ‘real world’. I want the children to come across objects and not take them just for what they are, but rather what they can be. The process of creating spaces is some of the most valuable learning I feel we have at Stramash for the children and staff. From creating the design through mainly a trial and error process, constructing the feature, risk assessing, and finally playing with!”
From afar, the main stash of cable drums look like a mottley collection. As you can imagine the children have a lot of fun clambering over these exercising their large muscles and learning about how to use their bodies. One developmental milestone is developing the confidence and ability to jump off each drum and land safely. If you look carefully in the background, you can see another cable reel with a plank laid up to it. The children were absorbed in the challenge of balancing and walking carefully up and down the plank. Simple activities such as these are helpful in terms of children’s physical development.
Upon closer look, you can see that the cable reels have been opened up to create a series of miniature dens. The field where the children play is very open. Thus the need to provide nooks and crannies where children can hide away, out of sight can enable children to have private conversations and develop their social skills and imaginary play. In the photo below, you can see a collection of stones put there by one child who particularly appreciates his own space to play.
Often, it is the attention to detail that demonstrates staff are aware of the need to challenge children and extend their learning. Inside the cable reels, there are sections painted with blackboard paint rather than blanket coverage of the inside walls. This is deliberate. It makes the children learn to distinguish where to mark make. They were also involved in the painting! The chalk stands out better on the blackboard paint. So children have to visually discriminate between the different surfaces. Visual discrimination is an essential pre-reading skill to acquire.
In the photo below you can see one cable reel only has the ceiling painted. In the other cable reel, it is one part of the wall. This requires different motor skills for mark making as the shoulder and arms move in different ways. Children need variety in mark making skills.
Between two of the cables, holes have been created large enough for a guttering pipe to connect the two. This is a ‘telephone’ which enables children in different spaces to have conversations with each other. This free conversation helps children develop their confidence and turn taking with talking and listening. Children can also roll objects down the pipes too.
The tops of the cable drums are also a source of fascination – all those circles and posting holes! They are made for staring into, looking out from and popping things through. Activities which encourage children to exercise their sight and vision in different ways can help strengthen eye muscles. There are conversations between children as they explore the different sizes of holes and learn what objects are small enough to be posted, thus the play becomes mathematical.
Beside the mud kitchen, there are more cable drums. These are used mainly as work surfaces. Having cable drums of different sizes means that there’s a table at the right height for children of any age. Quite a number of settings add hooks underneath cable reel tables so that objects can be hung there. Check out the rather fine balance scale on top of this table:
The cable drums are always inspected by the practitioners prior to the children using them. Some are sunk into the ground to increase stability, especially those on their sides which are apt to roll. The children help sand down any wood which looks splintery. They learn to look out for rivets and the natural features inherent within the design of the cable reels. Using real resources means children learn to take care in the real world even if it does mean the occasional splinter or scrape on the knee.
What I hope this post helps you consider where and how you place resources. But thinking about ways of using such resources to increase the learning potential beyond the norm is always a pleasure to see. Thank you Stramash Fort William!
NB Remember to ensure you have undertaken the appropriate safety checks, permissions and risk benefit assessments when creating and installing such features – seek professional advice if in doubt.