Thursday, February 4, 2010

25 ways to improve your outdoor space

I'm a sucker for a good natural playscape and I'm always hungry for ideas on how to improve our own ever-evolving and dynamic outdoor space.

So Jim Greenman's article "25 Ways to Improve your Outdoor Space." is right up my alley, and I think you will enjoy it to.
Here are a few of my favorite tips - I've also added a few and Australian-ized them a bit:

1. Think of your space as an outdoor classroom.

2. Loose parts: add buckets, spades, balls, ropes, bags, fabric, boxes, crates, hoops, tyres, tubs, dress ups, wheels, backpacks, sacks

3. Increase your use of water: add hoses, sprinklers, water bottles, water tables, ice, gutters.

4. Improve your outdoor art: add big paint brushes, paint rollers, easels, big chalk.

5. Increase the use of natural materials: add a mud or dirt pit; big stones; logs, driftwood.

6. Create a construction zone: add crates, cartons, rope, saw horses, tape, planks, pulleys.

7. Sites for drama: add a lean-to; a cubby; a grotto, a platform.

8. Water transport: watering cans; buckets, hollow bamboo, plastic piping, recycled milk containers.

9. Logs: lay one or more large logs on the ground for sitting, balancing, hiding behind. Laying several together, end to end in a zig zag pattern makes a nice obstacle course. Partially bury, or stake in the logs to avoid them rolling.

10. Stream: make a dry stream out of a twisting rounded gravel bed. Plants along the edges add interest.

Can you add some more?


  1. Hey Jenny,

    I couldn't find an email for you, but I wanted to answer a couple questions you've asked me recently. I don't expect you to publish this comment since it's off topic:

    1) You asked about our parent orientation, specifically regarding educating them about play-based education.

    Our entry point is our 2-year-old class. I usually speak about the philosophy of progressive education at our orientation meeting, but know that parents of 2-year-olds are usually far too consumed with their own children for it to sink in. The main orientation takes place in the classroom. Since parents work with me at school once a week, I make a point of pointing out what their child (and other children) is learning through his play while it's happening. Typically, by this time of year when they have to make a decision about continuing with us for the next two years or not about 2/3 seem to get it. The rest leave for other schools. Those 2/3, however, are completely "sold" on the power of play-based education and they tend to stick with us for the next two years.

    2) You asked about our fairy garden play.

    All they've done so far is to create the gardens, but I expect as they grow more accustomed to the idea it will develop into dramatic play. I think it will help when we add some actual troll/fairy figurines to the mix.

    I have learned that it's better to not put the fairy gardens too close to the water play or they'll just get flooded.

    I'll keep you updated as the play evolves.


  2. Tom thanks so much for taking the time to reply. I really appreciate it. Running off to work now but will have a good read when I get home. cheers, jenny

  3. Hello Jenny

    I think you've summed up really well what should be in an outdoor area. I always recommend (because of Scotland's climate) a decent door between the indoor and outdoor area that won't slam shut, having shelter/shade outside and an outside tap that can be turned off from the inside when not in use.

    Perhaps the most important place is the transition between the indoor and outdoor area. Stand here and have a look at what the child can see when they first step outside. I also encourage staff to think about the indoor area just beside the door and how this space preps children for going outside.

    The book by Jim Greenman is now quite hard to get hold of. The best book for developing playspaces I have come across is Gail Ryder Richardson's "Creating a Space to Grow" which is based upon a project where 15 pre-school centres with completely different outdoor areas - one just had a car park - developed their outdoor spaces.

    This book and others can be seen on my Early Years and Outdoor Learning Listmania

    Any other book recommendations are gratefully received!

    Best wishes

    PS Your blog is SUPER - along with Teacher Tom, these are my favourite of the year so far!

  4. stopping by from we teach! you have great ideas! i'm definitely stealing the egg carton nature box for our next hike or walk (once we get out of the blizzard that's coming) and I love the fairy house! i totally need to make one with my daughter!

  5. Juliet *blush* thanks for the kind words, and I really appreciate all the links and references you send to me. I'm going to search for the "creating a space to grow" book.

    I've got one for you to add to your list: its an australian book called "the outdoor playspace nautrally" and is edited by sue elliot. It too has plenty of case studies with great images and ideas (and we are in it!).

    Thanks again, Jenny

  6. Hi danita - Isn't we teach a great idea? I love the fairy house and egg carton ones too, but haven't tried them out yet. we are at the beginning of the preschool year here so things are being kept simple and gentle and familiar while our new little 3 year olds settle in and the older kids regroup after the long summer holiday.

    Teacher Tom has created a fairy garden - take a look at his!

    Thanks for the comment, Jenny

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