Making your outdoor area exciting and educational on a tight budget
Audit your outdoor space first deciding – what parts is it made up of. Using a format like this might help:
Once you have looked at your use of space consider the resources. Some things to think about:
Condition of resources
- If things are not in good condition either renovate them, repair them or get rid of them
Use of resources
- If some things are used a lot decide why and whether that’s a good thing; it may be that the bikes are very popular but are stopping lots of children from using the same space. You might have to consider whether that is the best use of space.
- If some things are not used decide why and if they’re worth keeping think about how and why you would want to encourage children to use them
Decide what you want children to learn in the outdoor space –you should be trying to provide for all seven areas of learning in the EYFS.
Once you know what you want from your outdoor area review the space/areas resources you have and make two lists: one of what you would ideally like in terms of the use of space and one to reflect the resources you would like in the outdoor area. How you move from the ‘wish lists’ being completed to the reality may be slow but at least you will know where you are going. You may decide on any number of ways forward but here is one:
You may decide that you would like to develop four areas to begin with:
- a quiet area with seating for talk and looking at books
- a growing and planting area to provide vegetables, herbs and flowers (and to create interest in insects, birds etc)
- an investigation area for sounds/movement/dens/sand/water/mud etc
- an area for vigorous physical activity
A quiet area with seating for talk, mark-making and looking at books
- This can be developed relatively cheaply through using a light framework such as a clothes drier or disused climbing frame to create a cosy den secured safely and covered either with see-through or other material; you could also use a cheap tent bought from a chain store.
- Another option is to use logs as a seating area – get logs from a local firm – usually they can be persuaded to give them free – have them partially submerged in the ground (get a group of willing parent helpers and colleagues to help to do this).
- Tyres can also be used in a similar way and again you may be able to persuade somebody to give and deliver these to you free.
- Books for the area might come from the resources you already have or from parents and friends: each sponsoring a book for the outdoor area.
- Mark-making materials can be bought for a song and could include stubby felt pens, chalks, crayons and so on.
- Talk is free – children just need somebody to talk to and something to talk about – set up interesting ‘happenings’ such as a ‘talking teddy’ in – like the scenario in Elmer and the Lost Teddy or like the Peppa Pig story where Peppa becomes a detective looking for the teddy; or to start a ‘Bear hunt’ discussion.
Encourages C&L and Literacy development – particularly talking, imagination, role play, mark-making, sharing books.
A growing and planting area to provide vegetables, herbs and flowers (and to create interest in insects, birds etc)
- Some organisations might sponsor a growing area or at least provide some plants – local parks for example, or garden centres can sometimes be persuaded to provide these.
- Growing things can be reasonably cheap and can be done in the tiniest of spaces – gathering containers of all shapes and sizes is the starting point – they don’t have to be big and they don’t have to be the real thing. A grow-bag for instance can produce courgettes or tomatoes to take you right through the summer – all you need is the grow-bag, water and packets of seeds.
- Herbs can be grown quite easily from seeds, cuttings and from small plants – some may need a sunny position.
- A packet of wildflower seeds scattered on a small stony bit of ground will often bring lots of beautiful flowers – that seem to like the worst soil possible – they also attract the bees.
- Putting out seed for the birds sometimes brings unexpected bonuses like wheat springing up from the bird feed that has fallen on to the ground!
Supports Understanding the World (UW), especially of place, living things and environmental issues as well as developing aspects of PSED
An investigation area for sounds/movement/dens/sand/water/mud etc
- Investigation areas can be very cheap to provide and very rewarding because they offer lots of opportunities for open-ended activity that children enjoy so much.
- Exploring sound can be provided for cheaply by borrowing or buying old pans and stringing them so that they can be banged with a wooden spoon, a drum stick or a rubber beater.
- Movement and other things such as rain and puddles can be investigated cheaply by creating boxes to support children’s chosen enquiry. Movement: Fixing plastic or cotton ribbon to pieces of bamboo can create lovely effects when children wave them weaving them in and out of one another. Hanging old CDs in or from trees or fences can provide movement too and children love to thread these. Adding a couple of windmills or cheap ‘spinning flowers’ from a pound shop could also provide ‘movement’ investigation resources.
- Sand and water alone or together can be a great source of investigation – even if they are only provided in a water or sand tray – but play with either of these can be enhanced and extended by adding cheap pieces of plastic guttering (these can also be used for car runs), plastic piping, containers including washing up bottles filled with water for mark-making plus pebbles, stones, watering cans and so on.
- Buckets, water, powder paint and decorating brushes of different sizes bought from any number of ‘cheap shops’.
- Books to support interests of individual children and that relate to the resources.
Supports scientific understanding in UW; Physical and Literacy especially mark-making; C&L talking; EAD. Also helps children to express their own ideas; Mathematics – observing and thinking about quantities, shape, space and measures.
An area for vigorous physical activity
- Many schools and settings seem to have these kinds of areas much more than the ones already discussed – possibly because buying bikes or tractors is fairly straightforward but sometimes having bikes or fixed equipment can limit learning – though that isn’t to say there isn’t a place for these at all.
- If the space is small consider providing for different activities on different days by rotating the equipment or resources on offer. You might provide resources that focus more on scrambling, crawling through and over on some days and on others provide opportunities for using leg muscles by putting out items such as trucks and bikes.
- Crates can often be obtained free from some firms and provide an open-ended resource that allows children to use their physical skills whilst using their imagination at the same time to create boats, planes and fire engine.
- Planks can be obtained quite cheaply too and can be used for balancing and jumping on and off and can be adapted to use in the investigation area to create a wheel barrow run for tipping leaves or gravel into an empty sand tray – children love to do this and will be developing understanding of weight, volume and so on as a result of doing this.
Physical: Developing large and fine motor skills which support cognitive development and aspects of PSED.
And finally you matter:
The best and most important resource is you and the people who are with the children outside – whatever the weather. You are the most important and wonderful source of learning throughout the year.