Outside playgrounds and Outdoor classrooms. What do young children really need?

Posted under Outdoors

(Moondew children in outdoor play action!)


I really liked this post (below) by Teacher Tom.

River Keeps on Rolling on Teacher Tom’s blog
is about the industrious activity of the children in his outdoor classroom.
It is worth a read, especially to check out the pictures of the children in action.


Play for children really is their work, don’t you think?
And we see this more than ever in a slightly dishevelled outdoor environment than one that is perfectly pristine.
Health and safety concerns, and rules, rules and more rules are meaning more and more children NEVER get to see real grass, or dirt, or sand, or mucky water.


Last weekend, there was a bus tour that took a large group of kindergarten teachers and staff visiting a number of local childcare centres and preschools.
Some of the participants joined the tour because they wanted to see a centre with ‘real grass’!
I mean, can you believe it??


Years ago, when we moved from our old tin-shed kindergarten room (you wouldn’t have known, it was beautiful!) into our new purpose-built rooms, the playground was made up of a MASSIVE shaded (but not waterproof) sandpit, a climbing dome and one simple fort, surrounded by an expanse of real grass on both sides.
But the children had almost nothing to do!


The newly planted trees in this space (the original trees were cut down in the building process- thoughtful and considerate and forward thinking of the builders, don’t you think?) were of no use as shade, and it was hot, hot, hot, so we reverted to taking the double group up to the old kindy yard.  There wasn’t much left there- a few old pots and pans, and large rocks from the creek and leftover logs- no grass, no fort, no climbing dome, no sandpit- just weeds and bare ground were on offer. Yet, the children jumped in with gusto, and never wanted to leave!!


They made cakes and stews, porridge and pies, stirred their creations over man-made ‘fires’ and climbed on the very small hills as explorers. They became archeologists and explorers, digging for bones of long lost dinosaurs, and gem collectors on a mission to find the gnomes crystals.   They made leaf boats, and stone sculptures and if we gave them a bit of wool, they finger knitted fishing rods and skipping ropes.


Scrap material and bits of felt were rolled into sushi, and tied with vines.  They picked ‘flowers’ and set up beautiful displays on the window ledges of their log cubbies.
They often sang as they worked.
 I never saw such rich play in the newly minted space.


While the pure white beach-sand filled sandpit was always a hive of activity, not a lot of action happened outside this space.  Many of the children sat on chairs under the shaded awning and read books, or drew pictures, or helped the teacher. Sometimes, they lined up to skip in the large rope.
But self-directed, independent imaginative play that grew and morphed and spewed out… not a lot.


There was a lovingly engineered ‘creek’, a man-made offering of a concrete weir filled with stones, with pedestrian ’bridges’ at either end.
For the water to run, it needed to be turned on and off at the switch by the adult teachers,
and monitored for health and safety and cloaked in rules.


While it looked great, children weren’t always inclined to play there, except the odd child who seemed content to throw the stones!
The artificial creek never had the same pull as the real one that ran behind our old space.  Children often stood near the imposing wire-mesh gate during outdoor play and peered at the bush track which would lead them down a slight hill to the creek bed.  Audibly plaintive sighs were a common occurrence if it wasn’t a ‘creek’ day!The children never needed a single toy or piece of equipment or tool down at the creek.  The rocks and stones and leaves and fallen branches were their greatest ally.
And often, they were content just to dip their toes in, or jump from side to side across the 15cm trickle!
Oh, it was a joyous time!


Have you had similar experiences???
Tell me your stories!

6 Responses to “Outside playgrounds and Outdoor classrooms. What do young children really need?”

  1. Jane (and Lou)

    It seems that most of the childcare centres I’ve seen up here have astro turf – that’s plastic! I mean who is ‘OKing’ this stuff? What trained early childhood teacher would think this as an appropriate play surface for our children? mmm I have lots of thoughts, but don’t want to use your blog as my ongoing platform to complain… Jane:)

  2. Lavendilly House

    How interesting, in cleaning up this weekend I came across photos of our old playground Amber – children playing in the dust and on the logs. There were a few who couldn’t cope with the unstructured nature of it all, but overall I don’t seem to remember there being many problems at all with children’s play in such a sparse environment!! And you are SO right about the creek. Workplace Health and Safety is there for a reason, but hasn’t it undermined the trust and spontaneity and wonder of our natural environments?

    The best thing about our classroom ‘backyard’ was that BECAUSE it was so unformed, we were always trying to improve it, thus working purposefully outside in the garden with the children, and all the little surprises that would pop up now and then – the avocado tree, the fruiting pineapples and the blueberry bush – gave us something to work on and tend and write stories and songs about.

    In my old house our backyard was SO BIG and had almost nothing in it except a sandpit and a lot of grass. My kids both spent hours out there with bits of pipes, planks some chairs and a few bricks. From this they made all kinds of amazing structures for their play. I used to cringe because our yard was so ugly … but they never noticed any of that.

  3. Kylie

    I can clearly remember my children digging away at some sand – underneath a paver we had moved, with spoons. I felt so sorry for them that we didn’t have a sandpit – eventally my husband built one. They played in in for the first week, and then went back to the pavers! Our sandpit is now a garden bed and the children dig in the dirt outside the old sandpit! Unstructured, love it!

  4. Amber Greene

    Yes, Jen, I remember the pineapples and the barely there olive tree, and the daylilies that used to pop up at times. I loved that garden. Remember Bobby Running Fox’s tree swing? And Earl’s stick teepee cubby? And the boat ceremonies? Such fond memories..
    Kylie, love that story of digging with spoons. I can picture it so clearly :) Cute!

  5. Lavendilly House

    LOL! I remember when the tyre swing came down because the branch broke!! no more swings after that, sadly. I loved that the parents thought our garden was so deprived … it meant they got in and added their own touch and they wanted to get involved in making something beautiful with the children. Was wonderful to see the dads.

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