outstanding outdoor spaces

Orchid Vale Primary School, Wiltshire

Head teacher, Mrs Debbie Kalynka tells us how a new Playforce designed outdoor area has provided the pupils with endless learning opportunities and encouraged good behaviour.

Why did you want to develop your playground?

As a new school, which opened in September 2006, we were keen to develop our grounds and include the pupils in the design process. We had already worked on several art projects with the children and as a result it was clear that they wanted some adventurous outside equipment, for use at playtimes and during lessons. This also coincided with receiving our Travel Plan funding. One of the aims of the Travel Plan was to provide somewhere for parents to wait when collecting their children in the bad weather and so we had the opportunity to include this in our plans. Our PTA supported our plans by raising the fantastic sum of £6000 towards an Activity Trail. We were also in the process of developing our outside provision for our Early Years Foundation classes in line with the requirements of the EYFS. All these elements were linked together very skilfully when I met with James, the consultant that visited from Playforce.

 

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

During School Council meetings our pupils had created a very visual map of what they would like from the play equipment and this was my starting point when I met with 5 different companies. James was the only consultant who really looked at what the children wanted and asked questions to develop their ideas further. He was also very knowledgeable about Health & Safety issues and gave us some very good advice. We received his plans and quotations very quickly, and even when I changed the brief (when the Governors agreed to a higher budget than expected) he was not phased by the changes and was quick to produce redrawn plans and ideas. Some of the other companies took a long time to get back to us and some did not seem to have listened to our needs at all, so we were delighted that Playforce had come up with the perfect solution.

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The wide range of equipment that was selected for our playground has supported our mission statement ‘Enjoying learning together, achieving success together!’ and has provided numerous opportunities for learning across the curriculum.

How are we using the space to deliver outdoor learning & educational play?

The Sliding Lid Sandpit in the Nursery and Reception areas have proved to be multi–purpose, used as stages, areas for construction in wet weather and jumping platforms, as well as a sandpit. The Play House has also been used as a shop, a jungle hide out, a space centre and a post office, allowing the children’s imaginations to run wild in role play scenarios. It has definitely helped to deliver our outdoor curriculum in the Early Years.

The Octagonal Shelter has of course been welcomed by parents waiting to collect their children, but has been used for much more besides. It is used regularly as an outside classroom for storytelling, drama and science, as well as a place for children to sit during play times to chat and eat snacks – a real social hub of the playground.

The activity trail, which includes a Dual Balance Beam and Spinning Disc Challenge, has encouraged pupils from all age ranges to take part in more active play, taking risks and working as a team, as well as improving fitness and well-being. It has also been used as an incentive to encourage good behaviour at playtimes and during lessons.

 

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

The wide range of equipment that was selected for our playground has supported our mission statement ‘Enjoying learning together, achieving success together!’ and has provided numerous opportunities for learning across the curriculum.

It has provided our children with a healthier lifestyle and promoted many skills including team work and problem solving, all whilst having lots of fun! Overall, our outdoor area now enables us to provide a safe and enjoyable learning environment that meets the needs and challenges all of our pupils from 3 to 11.

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

We involved our pupils throughout the entire process, from the original designs, feedback from each class via the school council, right up to the point when the children discussed and decided on safety rules and created rotas for taking turns on the equipment. This process has helped them value and take care of the equipment because they have ownership.

It has also been a good motivator for other areas of focus around behaviour management. For example, the class that wins ‘Line of the week’ for lining up well at the end of playtime always choose to have extra time on the activity trail as their reward, which just illustrates how much they enjoy playing on the new equipment.

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