Saturday, January 15, 2011

what rusty keeler said: designing and building a playscape with children

Last, but definitely not least in the "What Rusty said: creating natural playscapes series" lets look at ways you can involve the children in creating your natural playscape.

You are creating the playscape for the children in your world, so who better to tell you what to put in it than the children themselves?  As Juliet Robinson from "I'm a teacher get me outside of here" commented on a previous post:
So often we look at beautiful outdoor spaces and think "I want that in my place" yet we need to focus on what children want to be able to DO outdoors and not what features to HAVE in the first instance. This takes a bit of a mindset shift but it's very effective.

Ways to Involve Children in Planning a Natural Playscape
The playscape planning and creation can be a big part of your curriculum and the children should be involved each step of the way. More than simply asking them what do you want on your playground, immerse them in the idea of natural playscapes and the materials that are used to make them.
20 ways to Create Play Environments for the Soul by Rusty Keeler

1. Ask them what they want

What do the children want to do, see, play with and experience in the play space?  You could start by asking: 

  • What are your favorite things to do outside?
  • What don’t you like about the playground?
  • Where are your favourite outside places?
  • What do those places look like?
2.  Use drama, story telling and role playing to help children offer their suggestions.

Children at Olive Phillips Kindergarten used stories and poetry when planning their cubby.  Image: Eco Cubby

3.  Excursions

Take the children on trips to local parks or local nature spots.  What do they like to play with there?  What things would they like to bring back to their own playground?  

Children at the University of Melbourne Learning Centre went for a walk to a nearby river bank to investigate natural building materials.  Image:  Eco Cubby

Our kids visited the pond in the primary playground to gather ideas for their own pond.  

4. Sensory Play

Set up the sensory table with earth materials such as topsoil, sand, smooth rocks, twigs, branches, water, mud and leaves. Talk about the natural materials in a natural playscape.

Here children created dream small worlds using sand, glass stones, twigs, shells and other natural materials as well as the time to play, experience, create, imagine and explore. Then they drew what they had created onto paper, generated a list of materials they would need for the playscape, visited the local building supply and chose materials for the new playscape.

5.  Drawings
Image: Eco Cubby

6.  Model Making

Image: Eco Cubby
Model of veggie patch.  Image: Eco Cubby

Model by primary aged students.  Image:  Eco Cubby
7. Measuring.

Our kids measured out the desired size of our dirt patch with their bodies.
Children at the University of Melbourne Learning Centre used milk cartons to measure out their cubby.  Image: Eco Cubby

8. Materials

Take the children on a trip to the local hardware shop to buy materials.  We took our kids on a short walk to where we had spied some logs someone had cut and left by the side of the road:

And they helped to roll them back to preschool!

9.  Construction  

Our kids helped to dig holes for stumps.

Children busily preparing the site for a dry creek bed at Irresistible Ideas for Play Based Learning.

10.  Incorporating Children's Artwork

Gorgeous 'friendship poles' painted by the children at Irresistible Ideas for Play Based Learning.

Resources (with thanks to Juliet from I'm a Teacher Get Me Outside of Here):

::: Learning Through Landscapes
::: Evergreen .
:::"Asphalt to Ecosystems" by Sharon Danks. 
:::"Creating a Space to Grow" by Gail Ryder Richardson.
:::"Natural Playscapes" by Rusty Keeler

Places also become special when we have a hand in creating them and caring for them. When children help look after a garden, paint a mural, create a sculpture or put a hand-print in a stepping-stone, they feel connected to a place.Children’s ideas about their play environment may be the most important and enlightening advice you can receive about site design. Evergreen


  1. WOW! This series has been truly eye opening Jenny. I have book marked every post and will be sharing them with as many people as possible. I'm about to pop this post up on our fb page.
    Congratulations on an incredible series ... you are truly inspirational!
    Donna :) :)

  2. Hi Jenny

    Donna is right, it's been a lovely, inspirational and helpful set of posts.

    In terms of consulting children and involving children in the process of developing the outdoor space, there are many ways of doing this which are interesting and enjoyable.

    I liked the photo of the milk bottles. Gym equipment is really handy and I'm fond of using my old climbing rope for letting the children mark the boundaries or where the paths should go. I use hoops for spacing too.

    If folk need advice on making their space accessible then the School Board or local authority should be able to advise. For example, paths for wheelchairs ideally need to be 2m wide (so that 2 wheelchair users can pass each other)

    Taking lots of photos before, during and after is helpful too. It took me years to get into this habit.

  3. I love these posts, Jenny.

    One thing I would add, is that I've found it's important to allow your outdoor space to evolve as children and their families continue to make their imprint on the space. You're so right that you can only really call a space your own if you've had a hand in creating and maintaining it.

  4. Jenny,

    Do you the only place you can buy Rusty's book on the Earthplay website?

  5. Thankyou for the lovely comments guys. Shauna, are you in Australia? I got mine from the book garden