outstanding outdoor spaces

Christchurch CE Primary School, Surrey

Mrs Tracey Coton, Head Teacher at Christchurch CE Primary School in Surrey, explains how the developments to the EYFS and KS1 outdoor area has allowed pupils to initiate their own learning, use their imaginations and enjoy every minute of their school day!

Why did you want to develop your playground?

The area behind the EYFS and KS1 classrooms was very small. There were a lot of bushes and sheds and only a small footpath for all the children and parents to walk through the area. The existing play space was really uninviting and the outdoor learning opportunities were limited. We recognised the importance of maximising the potential of the space we had available in order to offer optimum learning and play opportunities, and so approached Playforce.

How did you obtain funds for the playground?

Our funding came from various sources including capital grant, school budget and we were fortunate to receive a substantial contribution from the Parent Staff Association.
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The biggest benefit we have noticed is the amount of imaginative play that has been stimulated – pupils thoroughly enjoy their time here.

What were the key elements that made Playforce stand out from other providers?

The variety of exciting designs and equipment Playforce had to offer really appealed to everyone within the school. We were immediately able to see the scope for how the equipment could be used to enhance learning outcomes. The Playforce team applied a fantastic approach when we were discussing our individual needs; they understood our vision and effectively interpreted this. In addition, the School Grounds Consultant was extremely helpful when we had to make realistic financial changes to our initial wish list!

How are you using the space to deliver outdoor learning and educational play?

We’re able to use our wonderful area extensively during break time and lunchtime play, as well as for activities aligned to the EYFS curriculum throughout the day. The children love learning outside and they can express themselves more freely.

The sand and water area is popular, particularly the weighing scales, and the children are always trying to balance their toys with the sand. They love the Log Forest Posts and enjoy making dens – a favourite at the moment is making the area into a Tardis! The “hill” on the Hump Back Bridge with Tunnel has been used for all sorts of imaginative play and the children have experimented with forces while rolling different things (including themselves!) down it.

It’s also fantastic to see the children being so musically involved outside following the introduction of the Musical Panels – they’ve enjoyed composing songs and tunes for each other.

What are the biggest benefits you have seen for the children?

The biggest benefit we have noticed is the amount of imaginative play that has been stimulated – pupils thoroughly enjoy their time here. We are also meeting all of our requirements for EYFS provision. KS1 children are also able to use this area as an extension to their classroom which is fantastic as it increases the return on investment.

The wonderful thing about our new and improved area is that we can set up directed activities, like writing tasks or drama opportunities or even putting things into the sand and water. In addition, we can allow the children to conduct their own learning – meaning they set up their own activities. An example of this is that some of the children had decided the stones they had were ‘eggs’ that had fallen from trees. They then used the Mini Beast Exploration table to check that the ‘eggs’ were okay and hadn’t broken. This inspired a discussion about eggs and birds.

The children also have the space in our new area to allow them to play traditional games like ‘Hide and Seek’ and ‘It’ and the room to use the bikes and ‘Horsey Hoppers’ allowing them to develop their gross motor skills as well.

Can you share any best practice insights you’ve gained?

I would advise that whilst considering the playground design, keep in mind that the area should be as spacious and also as interesting as possible. In doing so the space becomes more adaptable and enables a variety of uses, again delivering high value.
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