playnotes July 2009 Early Years Outdoors risk-taking and support physical development. Incorporating mounds, banks and gradients into your space can offer new possibilities for children’s play, and opportunities for movement and physical development. For settings that already have mounds, banks and changing gradients, a common complaint is erosion – these places are very popular, and grass will wear away if the area is not carefully managed. In very wet weather encourage the children to play elsewhere, and regularly re-seed, using a grass seed mix designed for very high wear. If possible, do this on the last day of each half-term to give the seeds a chance to establish over the break. If your outdoor area would benefit from re-landscaping, look at incorporating these type of changes in height, as the benefits are immense. You will need to take professional advice (see ‘Further resources’) but once you have clear designs, the physical work could easily be carried out by volunteer staff and parents.Up, over and under!Do you remember ‘getting giddy, walking or technique (and then celebrating theiralong walls and jumping off, climbing so success with them!) will not only boost ahigh you could see ’forever’?1 How often child’s physical capabilities but increasedo young children today get to enjoy their confidence too.challenging play like this? According to So what do young children want – andearly childhood specialist Jennie Lindon, need? Simply observing their current playthe risk-averse culture many of our will give you lots of ideas. For example,children live in today is damaging their young children love jumping off points.ability to grow, physically, intellectually They are drawn to raised levels to walkand emotionally2. But the good news along. They like to be up high and lookis that early years outdoor play spaces down – a mound to us is a mountain for acan make a significant contribution to two year old! Making the most of mounds, banksrectifying this. Whether you want to rethink how and gradients Whether climbing up, jumping over your current outdoor features are used, or Manoeuvring bodies and objects up, downor crawling under, children want to you are planning new ground works, this and along slopes is great fun and willexperiment and try physical activities Playnotes can help, as it looks at creating encourage children to experiment withinbeyond their capabilities – it’s in their and using stimulating and challenging all areas of their development. Some waysnature, and it’s essential that they do so. landscape features, including: in which mounds, banks and gradientsOnly then can they can build knowledge • mounds, banks and gradients could also be used include:and skills through experience. • tunnels • exploring balance, using planks, beams, Well-designed and well-used outdoor • paths and surfaces crates and ropesspaces can readily offer children the • rills, gullies and beaches • expressing movement throughspace and freedom to experience physical • walls. sound (music or voices) up and downchallenges with negligible risk. The key is gradientsto approach risk and risk assessment with Mounds, banks and gradients • rolling, crawling, jumping down a hilla positive attitude – with young children Outdoor spaces in early years settings are for the sheer joy of feeling the bodyrecognised and respected as competent often topographically dull – flat, mainly connect with the earthlearners, so they can learn how to stay grass and tarmac. Even when full of • using the embankment as ansafe without being limited. Allowing exciting resources and enthusiastic adults amphitheatre for storytelling orthem to try, maybe to fail this time, and and children, the spaces themselves role-playto try again until they learn a new skill could offer more variety to encourage • sharing and playing out rhymes, stories Learning through Landscapes
playnotes • July 2009 paths and surfaces Pathways are so much more that just a route from A to B. Textured pathways not only add visual interest to a dull garden area and allow all-year-round access to the whole outdoor space, but can also sharpen mobility skills as children learn how to manage uneven ground. Different surfaces worth considering might include: • bark or wood chip • tarmac • concrete slabs, brick pavers or stepping stones • gravel or pebbles • mosaics made from tiles/pebbles/ and songs (I’m the King of the Castle; Tunnels should have a good amount of shells Jack and Jill) hard-wearing surfaces at both ends – grass • closely mown grass or grass substitute • problem solving – eg transporting or will quickly get worn out and muddy • sand. balancing objects. – and should be long enough to add Creating new pathways can be simple an element of imagined peril for young or complex depending on the materials tunnels children, while being short enough and/or used and their location, but any new Outdoors is often thought of as a place wide enough to allow an adult to access it surface will need a sound sub-base to where children make big movements, quickly if necessary. help support the surface. A tarmac, loud noises, create life-sized artworks and It may be possible to tunnel through paved or other hard surfaced pathway experiment on a huge scale. But outdoors an existing mound to create additional might need several kinds of sub-base also offers children opportunities to be play opportunities. If you are planning – for example, granular materials such as small, to hide, to be close to one another on incorporating a tunnel into your compacted gravel laid with compacted and to share intimate spaces and times. outdoor space in this way you will finer gravel on top. If you are considering Tunnels and other enclosures (such as need professional advice (see ‘Further installing these types of pathways it dens) are an excellent way of providing resources’). would be sensible to engage a builder all this. Concrete pipes are a popular option or landscaper (see ‘Further resources’) (metal tends to bake small children in to ensure the finished surfaces are level hot weather!) and are readily available and not likely to subside or create trip from builders’ merchants and pipework hazards. More informal pathways such suppliers – check your Yellow Pages. as stepping stones or wood chip can be You may well be able to get a length of created by volunteers. concrete pipe for free. They can be buried When you are planning a new under a mound, hidden under trees pathway think about: or placed in a prominent position and • the width of the pathway painted or decorated with mosaics. – can wheelie toys or two children travelling side-by-side move along it Making the most of tunnels comfortably? With some additional resources tunnels • appropriateness of surface – a high can be more than just a place to hide: traffic pathway should probably be • provide cushions and blankets and the hard and continuous as it will get a lot of wear. tunnel will become a tent or a den for role-play activities • location –- will it go over gradients, or • use a hosepipe at one end and turn a under trees, and what will the effect be? tunnel into a culvert or raging torrent • percussion instruments will sound • initial cost and longer term entirely different inside a tunnel! maintenance – how will the surface be up, over and under!
replenished or repaired and how often playnotes • July 2009 might this need to happen?Making the most of paths andsurfacesPathways should help facilitate a flexibleenvironment for play and learning,enabling children to promenade, accessdifferent activities or spaces and usetheir bodies fully as they experience thedifferent textures under foot. You canenhance these opportunities by:• providing a wide range of bikes (some with and some without pedals) that can be pushed or pulled• locating resources in different areas so children are encouraged to use the pathways• setting up trails• providing blankets and sheets, carpet tiles or off-cuts and table mats that children can use to create temporary and transportable pathways.rills, gullies and beaches One of the most rare and yet mostthrilling additions to an early years settingis provision for outdoor water play. Most water from the gullies to re-use for they are probably best situated to one sidesettings already have an outdoor tap; if watering your plants in the garden. of the garden in a space that isn’t used foryours doesn’t then it should be top of other play activities.your outdoor play ‘to do’ list as it will Making the most of rills, gullies and A ‘beach’ of cobbles or pebbles,probably be the best value change you beaches perhaps adjacent to a sandy area or aever make. The next investment is a gulley is simple to construct. Remember In colder weather children need to puthose-pipe. Then it’s worth considering to include drainage underneath it, and on wellington boots to splash aroundhow the opportunities for water play can perhaps cement in place several of the in; on warmer days bare feet feel goodbe maximised by making changes to the bigger cobbles to help provide a firm but check that children won’t slip up onlandscape itself. Fascinating water effects structure. nearby surfaces. Make the most of havingcan be created, observed and recorded A soakaway (trench or hollow, filled a water feature in your outdoor setting byby children once they have access to with freely draining granular material such providing:running water and interesting textures as gravel) will be required underneath a • pieces of plywood, sieves and bucketsand gradients. beach or at the end of a gulley – many so that children can create dams Rills (small streams) and gullies (deeper do-it-yourself or gardening books offer and fountains when water is runningditches) are quite simple to create advice on how to create one (see ‘Further through the rills and gullies– they could be above the surface of the resources’). It would also be sensible and • small world toys sustainable to consider using water from • utensils and containers for mixing, a water butt in the gullies, and collecting filling and pouring.ground (in raised troughs) or dug intothe ground and lined with half sectiondrainpipes. More permanent ones couldbe lined with concrete, stone (see above),timber or metal. The main points toconsider include avoiding trip hazardsand providing appropriate drainage. Also, up, over and under!