Spring is here and it’s time to shake off the winter woollies and explore the great outdoors! Not everyone has some outside space in their setting, but if you are lucky enough to have even the smallest space, make sure you are making the most of it and inviting the children to use it to have fun and advance their learning. Here are some ideas on how you can create some meaningful areas, even in a small space.
Outdoor play areas
Many nurseries have a traditional play area which may have some swings, climbing equipment and slides in it which are great for developing children’s gross motor skills such a running, jumping, climbing etc. However, if you can’t afford or don’t have the space for these items, think about other things you can create such as hopscotch pads, snaking number lines or basketball hoops. Getting the children to play catch will also help with fine motor skills and hand-eye coordination too and you can use ball, bats/racquets and bean bags (homemade!) to add to the excitement. A tray with some sand on and a hosepipe to make muddy puddles are also great fun.
Obstacle courses and games
You can make a homemade obstacle course with virtually anything and they are a great way to reuse and recycle items from your setting. For example, you can use old cycle or car tyres (clean them first) for children to run in and out of, wooden stepping stones, or plastic tub and buckets turned upside down with an old broom on make great improvised horse jumps/hurdles. You could create a large snakes and ladders board by painting or marking out a square board. Make it different each time by using lengths of rope and wooden poles or sticks as the ‘snakes’ and the ‘ladders’. You could also make some outdoor counters using old pan lids or jam jar lids.
Outdoor areas can be used to create some wonderful sensory spaces with different textures, smells and sounds, and most of these can be created simply and cheaply in a small area. Remember to use vertical height to maximise space. You can buy vertical planters and put in different smelling/texture plants, filling some of the pockets with other items such as feathers or stones. You can create different sounds in the garden by using home made drums, and windchimes using bottle tops, old metal cutlery or tin cans. Half filling some old soda bottles with small stones, water, sand or other objects will allow children to shake them to make different sounds too.
Grow your own
Over the last year, we have run quite a few articles of the benefits of allowing children to grow their own plants as it taps into a lot of the Understanding the World parts of the EYFS. You can use lots of different objects to grow things in, from inexpensive seed trays to old buckets, cut down plastic bottles and yoghurt pots. Most plants need water to drain freely so make sure the water can escape from the bottom of the container to aid drainage. After that, there are a whole host of things that children can grow, from quick growing plants like cress and mustard, to larger, slower growing things like bulbs, flowers, tomatoes and pumpkins. Vertical planters are useful here too if you have limited space and you can create your own living wall.
Being outside sparks lots of creativity in children so make sure you have an area where your children can create things. How about encouraging some wild art by using sticks, leaves, stones, feathers, moss or anything else you can find to create some interesting pictures? You can paint stones with colourful pictures too. Clay soils are good for creating mud pies and sculptures and flower petals can be used to create some interesting perfumes or why not create a fairy house/garden? Remember to get children to wash their hands thoroughly and make sure they are well supervised too. All children love to create dens so make sure you have some long sticks and old blankets available too.
You can also create an area for making music by setting up some homemade drums and beaters,or by using different objects which make different noises when struck. Using jam jars and filling them with different amounts of water will change the pitch of the note they make.
If you have a boring wall or fence, why not change it into a graffiti corner and let the children experiment with their imaginations. If you don’t want to paint or mark the fence or building, then you could pin up some cardboard boxes, or wooden panels and let the children draw on those. Have different media available for the children to use such as chalk, paints and washable pens so that they can mark-make and create whatever they want. Also think about giving them different things to use as well as paintbrushes, as grass, feathers and leaves can create interesting prints and effects.
Any outdoor space however small, will also be home to lots of creatures even if you can’t see them, so make sure you are sharing your space well with your local wildlife. Think about how you can help encourage wildlife into your outdoor space by setting up some bird feeders and bird houses, and remember that birds and animals needs a watering station too. It could be as simple as placing an old tray or frying pan in a corner and filling it with water as a bird bath. You can build a minibeast or bug hotel using old sticks, twigs, bamboo, straw, fallen leaves and rotting bark and there are plenty of sites of the internet to give you ideas of how to do this. Wormeries are relatively easy to make and will teach the children a lot about the world around them and the creatures living underneath their feet. Ponds are exciting but you need to be very careful with children around water, although there’s lots to be learned from pond dipping. You can make a simple small pond using an old washing up bowl which can attract things like small tadpoles, water boatmen and pond skaters. You can even make simple nets using old wire coat hangers and some old tights!
Whatever you do with your outdoor space, respect it and enjoy it.
Useful sites and inspiration
15 ideas for children’s outdoor spaces
How to pond dip – Woodland Trust