Setting Up an Outdoor Area

abc doesBoys Learning, Creativity, Outdoors, Planning and Assessment2 Comments


I have only got two weeks left on this project! Can't believe how fast the time has gone – also can't believe how much I have got to get in place for the person who is taking over once I have gone.

I haven't forgotten that I said I would post a completed medium term planner. My team will have finished their initial assessments this week so we are going to have a go at our first medium term theme that will kick in after half term.

I thought it might be relevant to post that one as it relates to the children and the experiences that I have shared so far on the blog. Time allowing I will post that by the end of the week.

I had a comment from Pete on my ' Signs of autumn ' post asking about setting up ' boot camp '. Firstly – thank you to everybody who has taken the time to post a comment – not only are they really nice to read, but also very useful. The blog has now had nearly 45,000 hits which I find a bit mind boggling but also very exciting. I will keep posting as long as there is somebody out there (other than my mum) who is interested in reading them!

With regard to setting up a new area indoors or out I think it is essential that you document why you are doing it and exactly what is is you hope to gain from it – especially if, like Pete, you are expecting Ofsted at any time!

These were my thoughts around how we would set up our ' Boot Camp '

1) Why? – You need to identify the reason for setting it up.

' Outdoor observations have shown that there is an ongoing trend for very physical active play that is mainly initiated and dominated by boys that involves gun, superhero or combative play. Although not malicious, this play is disrupting and in some cases destroying other focused work that is taking place outdoors. The ' management ' of this play is not only taking up valuable practitioner time but also stifling the opportunities that the play itself presents.

Of all of the types and themes of play that we have identified outside this half term, this is the only one that has been consistently observed on a daily basis. '

2) Specific needs identified – what exactly is it that you need to tackle?

' The play that we have identified mainly consists of groups of boys who have an ongoing game in which they chase each other with the purpose of capture or shooting. At the moment they are using any non specific item to represent a weapon and occasionally creating one from construction. One of the issues that we have identified is that the children are using  inappropriate items in their play which result in either damage to the item or loss. This in turn has an impact on the overall level of provision that we can offer resources are damaged or incomplete.

Even though practitioners remind these children regularly about how to play, they become very highly engaged in their play and ' forget '. This high level of engagement from a group of children who are often more difficult to engage needs to be utilised not ignored. '

3) What other elements of their play can you use to help?

 ' Our observation has also shown us that these children also show high levels of engagement in the deconstructed outdoor role play, especially the building of den-like structures with the community play blocks and tarpaulins. '

4) What elements of the curriculum will you be supporting through this provision?


The children will be working together developing skills of sharing, complying and negotiating. They will have the opportunity to plan, discuss, build and amend their plans. The den play will allow children to produce spaces where they can feel secure and enclosed. The gun/superhero play will give them the opportunity to assimilate what they see around them and make some sense of it within their own personal context.


We will provide lots of opportunities for mark making, drawing and planning. The level of engagement will allow us to introduce a great deal of language development and vocabulary. This will need just the right amount of practitioner intervention which we will review regularly. We will enhance the area with related books as appropriate.


The large scale construction will develop children's spacial awareness as well as their sense of balance and proportion. The process will involve both gross and fine motor movement which will impact on the children's dexterity and impact upon their mark making ability.


Through the construction process the children will be getting first hand experience about how and why things work. the effects of the weather on the structures that they build and which materials are most appropriate. The opportunities for knowledge in this area are limitless. Again there needs to be careful and considered adult intervention which is regularly reviewed.


The children will have the opportunity to develop their understanding and use of mathematical language especially related to size, length and weight.


Children will be encouraged to develop their higher order thinking skills, finding solutions to problems and coming up with ideas for building their structures. They will then use those structures to support their imaginative play.

5) Any specific interventions to encourage maximum engagement from the children?

We are aware that this is a ' boy ' dominated area of our outdoor provision at the moment. As such we need to make sure that we use specific planned interventions to try and make this area more engaging to the girls. Our observations have shown us so far that the boys tend to do the ' construction ' and the girls then do the enhancement of the structure and often lead the play. The boys are very self sufficient in their play and will often initiate and activity. The girls tend to engage better when there is also an adult present. It appears that if the girls do initiate den construction and are then joined by a group of boys then the boys dominate and take over.

Our adult intervention in the play needs to take all of the above into account and actively combat any negative aspects.

5) What will you create? – Using what your know

' Our initial plan is to create a designated area that responds to the preferred play and personal interests of a significant number of our children. Rather that attempt to ' ban ' or ignore play that is causing us issues, but results in high levels of eengagement, we are going to utilise it to achieve maximum learning impact.

We will establish a den making area based around an ' army/combat ' theme. The children will lead the content through a collaberative planning session. We will provide some commercial representations of weapons as well as work with the children on how to producr their own.

We will establish rules about how this area is to be used and what is acceptable when it comes to weapon play. We will also be clear about the sanctions that we will put in place if the play becomes inappropriate.

Because we have identified that the engagement of girls in this type of play can often be an issue, we will ensure that they are involved in the planning process and implement as many of their ideas as possible.

To ensure specific impact on learning we will look at the current needs of the children identified by our most recent assessment and see which of these identified needs could be met through planning activities based on this area.

We will continually carry out observations of how the area is working and evaluate its success at team meetings.

Then all you need is a basic resources list and you are away! If your team has a number of members it is a useful activity to do together because it helps you all to be sure that you understand what you are doing and why!

It also shows anyone who has to make judgements about you or your practice that what you do is based on need as well as interest and that you are monitoring  and evaluating impact.

Give it a try and let me know what you think!

Here's to a great week!


2 Comments on “Setting Up an Outdoor Area”

  1. I too am hooked on the blog, thanks for the inspiration and guidance. Almost wishing we did have army role play going on in our setting right now!

  2. This is a really great idea. I work in reception and have also observed many of our boys engaged in the same sort of play. I work in a school where about 25% of the population are Forces families (army, navy, air force and Nato etc). These children know what their parents do for a living and ‘my dad shoots baddies’ is a common theme. Being able to challenge their play into something positive, rather than disruptive would be great. It would also extend upon an assault course that we set up last week. I will be giving it a go in the next couple of weeks. By the way, I am hooked on the blog. It is so inspiring and has given me lots of ‘phrases’ that I can use with my head teacher to support why we do what we do in our class! Many thanks.

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