If you are looking around your Early Years outdoors area with an eye to make a change and unsure where to start, then here are 7 ways to improve your outdoor learning space which won’t cost the earth.
1. Improve Storage and Accessibility
Allow yourself the time to take a closer look at the outdoor resources you already have. Can you use what you’ve got already more effectively? Perhaps a re-organisation of all your loose parts for construction, maths and literacy will enable children to access current resources more easily. Well organised Storage also enables young children to tidy up more independently and easily too. This will save you and your team valuable time!
Look around you whilst out and about and use nature and the seasons for inspiration; children love the tactile feel of sticks, pine cones, acorns, conkers, shells and pebbles stimulating their senses as well as their cognitive and inquiry skills. Collected responsibly, these hands-on, natural resources are of course are free!
Think multi-purpose too; a clever Storage Planter can save you space, by providing valuable, low-level storage space for outdoor equipment, as well as a place to grow plants, providing exciting, first-hand learning experiences throughout the seasons.
A sturdy Bike Store (with Dry Wipe and Chalkboard), provides an ideal storage solution for both bikes and trikes, also housing a chalkboard and whiteboard, perfect for mark-making fun. Combining uses by planning to install multi-purpose equipment in a small space can reduce costs considerably.
And don’t forget, a Welly Boot Store creates great additional storage space for children to access and store boots and waterproofs away from the main classroom, facilitating outdoor learning whatever the weather, ideal and essential for any EYFS outdoors space.
2. Increase Physical Development through Active Play
Children love to explore, clamber and climb. Although getting creative with loose parts is a popular way to create opportunities for active play, have you considered the versatility and practicalities of investing in small scale climbing equipment, specially designed for EYFS1 and EYFS2? The popular Little Movers Range provides a fun, portable playground that can be re-arranged as often as you like, creating limitless options for active play. Children can enjoy balancing, climbing, jumping and tunnelling; we’ve witnessed children becoming very motivated to play a large role in designing the playground for that day!
Constructed from beautiful Scandinavian Redwood, wooden climbing equipment not only feels smooth to touch and provides a natural look but benefits from an extensive warrantee of up to 20 years. Strong, laminated and pest resistant, Little Movers will make your outdoor area the envy of all the schools around!
If space is at a premium, the Dino Mound and Tunnel brings fun, imaginative and active play opportunities to any outdoor play space. Children can both climb over and travel through the tunnel, making it a stimulating piece of equipment for any early years setting.
If you are making the most of fundraising opportunities or accessing national funding schemes such as the National Lottery Community Fund, Sugar Tax (Soft Drinks Industry Levy) or Landfill Communities Fund, then a great way to increase active play is to have a Bike/Trike Track designed especially to suit your unique needs. Colourful, weather-resistant Wetpour Rubber Surfacing (link to different surfacing options too) allows safe play throughout the year, providing an interesting route for children to safely follow or to learn to cross carefully within your EYFS play area. A Wavy Bridge allows children to cycle up and over, adding another interesting element to their journey.
As well as strengthening muscles and bones and improving balance and agility, a Trackway encourages children to share, take turns and to become more aware of time. They will start to learn how long 5 or 10 minutes feels when riding their scooter around the track. It provides learners with opportunities to apply maths in real-life when children can start to use sand timers and clocks to manage their own play.
The addition of an attractive Playtime Garage simulates imaginative play, as children start to take on the roles of the people they’ve met and practice life scenarios they’ve experienced or have imagined. This allows pupils to rehearse and explore different outcomes and responses, as well as teaching them how to deal with or respond to different reactions; these are all important social skills, supporting children on their onward journey through life.
If you’d like to specifically improve the climbing opportunities available in your EYFS playground, then a fun Adventure Forest of interconnected fallen logs, specially designed for young children to traverse, complete with connecting ropeways may be just what you need. Or your children may love a Treetops climbing frame, where they can explore up high with 2 timber decks, a suspended bridge, a range of ladders, a scramble net, zig-zag and jungle swing climbers and a fun slide. Play towers all help to develop children’s overall strength, coordination, balance and fine motor skills as well as increasing their overall agility through active, fun play. Children particularly love traversing the clatter bridge and discovering who hides beneath!
If you’re particularly looking to increase imaginative play, an EYFS Fort provides active and creative play at a lower height, suitable for little legs and developing young imaginations! What’s not to love about towers, bridges, climbing and sliding all radiating from one compact space?
3. Encourage Communication and Language through Reading
A Storytime Arch creates a perfect entranceway to a magical, calm place where imaginative adventure awaits. Complete with side planters, a Welcome Arch can also form an exciting gateway to fun and discovery.
Sharing books and listening to stories helps children to develop language skills, extends their vocabulary and fuels their imaginations. Children love to learn about the world around them, discovering amazing facts and experiencing moments of awe and wonder. Immersion in poetry and rhyme also naturally develops a love of language, a passion for words and enjoyment of the patterns and rhythms that language can create.
It’s easy to create an enticing and stimulating reading corner tailored to fit into your play space. A magical Storyteller’s Chair and colourful Seating Cubes create the ideal setting for children to gather together and enjoy a lovely story. With the addition of a Giant Whiteboard or Giant Chalkboard nearby, children can freely express themselves through drawing and writing, inspired by the stories they have been immersed in, outdoors under nature’s vast skies.
A comfortable, cosy hideaway like the Outdoor Teepee provides an attractive reading area, where children can chat, share books, tell stories or play games. Teachers and children alike, love its interesting shape and peeping out of its special porthole windows.
A popular and innovative seating option is the timber Forest Seats providing both a place to stop and rest as well as an interesting observation point, where children can watch the world go by. Children love Eye Spy Posts too, which look intriguing and complement any setting, beautifully crafted from natural timber. Both are ideal for any size EYFS play zone, however big or small.
4. Develop Literacy and Mathematics through Active Fun
Playground Markings can provide limitless opportunities for developing cognitive skills, through active, energetic and memorable play. They provide an economical option to brighten up an outdoor play space, with vibrant markings which can easily be updated as the years go by without involving major groundworks. There is a wide range of markings to support the children’s development of literacy and mathematics, whilst developing imagination, teamwork and coordination skills.
A fun and effective option to stimulate learning in the Early Years is a bright and cheerful Phonics Pond, enabling children to start to connect letter shapes to the phonemes that they hear all around them as they engage in play. The friendly, vibrant 1-10 Snake also provides the chance for young children to have exposure to numerals and their sequence whilst they play. Jumping and hopping from head to tail introduces counting forwards and backwards in a fun, relaxed environment. Useful for children to experience physically moving on or back to discover one more or one less, the number snake also provides an instant grid for making sets of objects up to 10. Children love to collect and sort items, from trains to buttons, from counters to seeds, and will naturally practise developing 1:1 correspondence, whilst they play outdoors.
A large-scale Free-Standing Abacus or a versatile Maths Wall facilitates children to incorporate maths effortlessly into their free play. These tools submerse the children in maths within their play environment, enabling them to start to use and apply relevant maths concepts as they investigate and explore. The useful, giant magnetic whiteboard, which forms the base of the Maths Wall, enables children to make marks and record their ideas, observations and findings, with the added support of permanent 100 and times table squares. In addition, children can add magnetic counters to make sets of counters, match numbers or to order numerals.
5. Understanding the World through Investigative Play
Children love water, sand and muddy play and exploring the properties of materials. Your outdoor area is the best place to encourage messy play.
A Beach Box Combo provides high quality, traditional sand and water tray for your learners to discover and explore. Its pressure treated wooden surrounds and legs mean as well as bringing a natural look, the trays are both sturdy and stable. The colourful lid not only keeps your sand clean and dry but provides a useful, extra work surface for children to use to play and learn.
Covered Sandpits provide two wooden, sliding lids, that can be used as seating or a mini-performance stage for EYFS children. This is the perfect option for any small EYFS outdoor provision, providing multiple uses in one space; a real space saver!
Schools and nurseries are giving excellent feedback on the innovative Water Wall. With its magnetic hooks, guttering and waterwheel, it creates a fun space where children can begin to develop their engineering, science and maths skills, perfect for introducing the understanding of STEM subjects, through exploratory play.
If you have a larger space, the top-quality Niagara Water Tray play system or portable River Rapids chutes may provide the perfect solution for imaginative, open-ended water play. Sturdy, pressure-treated Tuff Tray, Sorting or Small World Tables offer limitless opportunities for immersive and interactive play at the right height for little legs; top quality timber equipment ensures that you are making a sound investment both for today and way into the future.
Another essential element of EYFS play space is access to a Mud Kitchen, where children can mix, concoct and experiment to their heart’s content. Easy to clean sinks and plenty of storage and hooks are the key to muddy success! Whether there’s only space for a practical Mini Mud Kitchen or the extensive luxury model, children will be able to discover and explore creatively and independently as well as joyfully engage in conversations around their messy innovations!
A Sensory Planter Stax and Wormery will attract the insects into your play space, allowing children to explore their immediate world, using their senses and first-hand experience. All children love to plant, grow and harvest, so planters provide the ideal environment for young children to develop their green fingers.
If there’s space next to your messy area, why not consider establishing an interesting Bug Hotel? With a handy Observatory placed beside it, your children will be able to discover and observe mini-beast activity throughout the seasons and even create their own micro-world in which the minibeasts can explore. Mud and minibeasts …what could be more inspiring?
6. Inspire Expressive Arts & Design
There are many ways to encourage children to use their imagination and creativity whilst outdoors, which suit every budget. The innovative Poly Painting Station allows children to explore a range of artistic materials and techniques, on an easily wipeable, transparent board. Take a picture of their masterpiece as a permanent record, before the children enjoy wiping off their artwork. You can also add paper for a more permanent record of little ones’ works of art.
With a larger budget, consider installing some attractive, stimulating Outdoor Musical Instruments to create an amazing, creative space, where children can explore sound and music on a large scale. Children love to explore the beautiful, tuned Rainbow Chimes and colourful Congas Trio Outdoor Musical Drums, enjoying composing individually and side-by-side. Outdoor Cymbals remain firm favourites with the children along with tuned Tung Drums, where the children can unleash their creativity and experiment with dynamics and pitch.
When EYFS children have access to a Performance Stage area, their confidence and self-belief grow. From a natural timber Friendship Stage to an amazing Promise Stage with roof and side wings, a stage can bring an exciting dynamic to an otherwise uninspiring corner of the playground. EYFS practitioners love the versatility of the Creativity Stage, complete with blackboard and whiteboards where children can draw out characters, story maps and enhance the show with hand-drawn scenery!
Aim high with both mini and full-scale performances, so if space is no option, why not install some Amphitheatre Seating or portable Timber Benches, so that children and adults can enjoy the show in comfort?
7. Develop Personal, Social and Emotional Skills
PSE is intrinsically intertwined within all that children do, but sometimes it’s useful to think about how your outdoor play space encourages children to interact with each other.
Activities that foster relationships as children play will always aid children in their emotional development. Open-air, communal areas such as a simple Friendship Cabin, exciting Jungle Play Den or popular Playtime Shop or Kitchen, provide opportunities for children to interact with each other and to learn to develop accepted behaviours as well as to experiment with consequences of different actions, whilst cocooned in the safety of role play. They offer hideaways and peace and quiet, as well as a place to gather and chat.
Some equipment allows children to succeed more easily in their quest; Den Posts provide a permanent solution for den building, where children can innovate and create unique dens, by using the holes and different height posts. Ideal if your setting hasn’t trees or suitable places to tie up old tarpaulins and sheets! Den Posts make den building an everyday possibility.
Buddy Benches with roofs to keep the children dry, also provide the perfect place for children to meet up or to gather to rest and play, ensuring that children can chat and talk together; a worry shared is a worry halved…whilst a discovery shared is double the excitement! Popular additional, stimulating GameTops for picnic benches ensure that your play value for space is optimized! Popular choices are the Farm Trail, Healthy Eating, Snakes and Ladders and Mazes, reinforcing children’s learning as well as enabling them to play traditional games.
If you’ve space to spread out, Play Boat Bob is a wonderful trawler-style playboat, inspiring social and dramatic interaction and play, packed with limitless play opportunities. Children love to scramble up the nets and bring in the days catch. The Crawl Thru Steam Loco and its vibrant All Seasons Carriages has been a popular choice in many preschools nationwide, providing an exciting base, stimulating imaginative and social play. Whole groups of children can hop onboard and chug off on a journey of a lifetime!
Make a Change
So, whether you just re-organise, renovate or redesign your EYFS play space, the children and staff will certainly all benefit. Time well spent here will improve all the aspects of learning through healthy outdoor play. What’s to lose?