Outdoor Play Inspiration

abc doesUncategorized4 Comments

A little while ago I was doing some work with a cluster of schools in the North East of England when I came accross the most amazing climbing frame made from naturally sourced real wood. It turns out that it was made by a North East based company called 'Infinite Edge'. I did a brief post about them at the time. I got a lot of interests and email enquiries following that post so I have asked Infinite Edge if they would do me a guest post and here it is…

Infinite Edge Playgrounds is a company built on the premise of infinite play and its wide reaching impact on learning.  We are a local company tracing our roots as artists working in schools supporting teachers and enriching curriculums through the embedding of creative play.  Infinite Edge has grown out of the wealth of education experience of two well known North East artists; Helen Law and Sam McGeever.

IMG_0120Infinite Edge is a company built from strong play ideals but founded in secure child pedagogy.  Helen says, ‘We understand the way children play and we use spaces creatively to scaffold children’s play in an interactive and engaging way’.  After a lifetime between them in education, Sam and Helen have an understanding in how children play, as Sam explains, ‘The starting point for all our work is to watch how children play.  When thinking about how children use a space, we can then plan how it can be enhanced creatively.’  Infinite Edge has built its reputation on its creatively constructive use of all types of space, from the small courtyard to boggy fields and everything in-between. 

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Sam goes on to describe a series of highly successful projects involving limited or poorly used spaces, of which possibly the most notable project  is Elmfield Nursery.  This is an extremely popular and well known nursery school that has grown in a terraced corner house in Gosforth, Newcastle.  Faced with the usual difficulties of a city nursery in negotiating its limited space effectively for its busy nursery sessions, they turned to Infinite Edge for advice.  Infinite Edge spent time talking to staff, parents and children about how they wanted the space used before producing a design that took all their ideas into consideration and combined it with their knowledge of what works best in nurseries.  ‘All our products have been tested and developed in hundreds of nurseries and primary schools, says Helen.  ‘What makes Infinite Edge special is that we are able to draw on our education experience to design a bespoke play space that is individual for each setting but is based on solid design products that we know work well in playgrounds’.

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Elmfield Nursery before the team got to work

Infinite Edge transformed the space at Elmfield from a square of concrete and grass at the front of the nursery to an exciting play space with carefully defined areas for the different age groups while still encompassing all the areas of the EYFS.  The company worked with the space to add landscaped hills with tunnels running through and a stream running down, with waterfalls and a child operated push tap for water play.

There are areas for clambering including an oak climbing tree with walkways, climbing grips, coloured windows, climbing nets and a rope swing. 

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This led to a social area or outdoor classroom enclosed in an oak tree den with oak seating; a magical place for children to reflect, refine and process their ideas and learning.


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A pebble pit enhanced the mathematical and analytical skills of children, providing real life problem solving opportunities through pouring, filling and transporting using a pulley system.  An added excitement is the carefully hidden dinosaur skeleton waiting to be discovered under the pebbles by budding explorers.  A digging area finishes the play space.

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Children now use this space productively, moving around the areas engrossed in their activities rather than crowding round a single activity.  There are now creative opportunities for children to extend their play without contrived or limited play areas.  Helen says, ‘When open ended play is supported and developed, this is where the real deep level thinking and processing occurs’.

This concept of open ended play is an important one, often used as an education buzz word, it can be difficult to see how it may practically apply to as setting.  ‘Open ended play is essential for making those links between prior experience and new ideas; a skill associated with the bravest of discoveries and wildest leaps of scientific judgement’, explains Helen.  Where modern playgrounds are prescriptive, we are teaching our children there is only one way to play and one way to think.  Infinite Edge’s philosophy is one of open ended play, and supported by its complimentary products’.  One striking example of a non-prescriptive play space was at Ivy Road First School playground where Infinite Edge built a bespoke climbing structure and den for children to play. 

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Helen goes on to say, ‘Open ended play spaces move away from pirate ships, fire engines and aeroplanes, exciting though these may be, to open up the play opportunities for children in a way that is relevant and creative.  Children can pretend they are in a rocket or police car, but are not limited to this, and equally can be in an enchanted forest or on another planet.’  

Another playground that demonstrates this artistic ability to create beautiful and complex play structures is Childsplay Nursery in Newcastle.  This was a substantial project to develop the land outside the nursery with hills, tunnels, trails, pebble pit, streams and waterfalls leading to an oak tree climbing structure on a vast scale.  This type of structure also allows play on different levels and to the extent of a child’s ability, developing with the child as they start playing small and gradually develop their ability both physically and imaginatively.  Children learn how to not only recognise risk but also to manage risk in an appropriate way, feeling confident in their own abilities.  This complexity of structure means that children have to think about how they will move and climb, what will be behind the corner and how can they cross a space and what kind of journey it will be; it is not a simple up and over climbing frame where children move from A to B repetitively.

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Sam describes these spaces as ‘where the imaginative experiences happen which scaffold open-ended language and child initiated learning and form the foundation for quality creative writing’.  Continuing this discussion of language, Infinite Edge recognises the importance of communication, reflected in the government’s emphasis on this as an essential element of the Foundation Stage and thus, the foundation of education.  A well thought out and designed play space provides a stimulus for communication; with a hubbub of chatter on the climbing structures, reflective conversation in private dens or through tunnels and cooperative play on rope swings or play streams.  St Joseph’s Primary School describe their playground as ‘Now it is all social, they are talking and sharing all the time, and making things up- there’s so much to do’.

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Infinite Edge offer free design consultations for schools nationwide, without compromise on quality or value to develop exciting bespoke playgrounds.  For more information, please go to our website www.infinte-edge.co.uk or call 0191 2404110 / 0191 2666508 

If you have an Infinite Edge structure in your outdoor area send me a photo of it in use and I will share it.

Alistair

 

4 Comments on “Outdoor Play Inspiration”

  1. What lovely ideas – children could spend hours learning while playing in these environments. My favourite is the large tree for climbing with steps and all……thanks again ABC Does!

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