Your outdoor area is a major part of your educational offering, so don’t take chances when it’s time to upgrade, says Mark Hardy…
The benefits of free-flow play in early years settings are well documented. Children view the world with fresh eyes outdoors and the Early Years Foundation Stage recognises outdoor play as an important part of child development, nurturing independence and communication skills while supporting physical and mental health and wellbeing.
A large outside space is every nursery manager’s dream, but for many, this simply isn’t possible. Small spaces, however, needn’t limit opportunities for children to play, learn and be active. With expert knowledge, planning and creative design skills, an outdoor area can be transformed into a fantastic space for play and physical activity.
How can you tell if it’s time to update your outside space? Watch out for the four telltale signs, as identified by Association of Play Industries (API) members, that a nursery’s outdoor facilities need an upgrade:
1. Equipment has come to the end of its usable life, poses a safety risk or is dangerous. Rotting timber, rusty metal and broken parts all signal the need to replace equipment.
2. Facilities no longer meet the requirements of the EYFS or are failing to support children’s learning and development.
3. Children have lost interest. Tired spaces and equipment with limited play value hold little appeal for children or staff.
4. There is little or no relationship between the nursery’s indoor and outdoor spaces to support free-flow play.
If your nursery’s outdoor space is exhibiting these symptoms, it’s time to update your facilities. When planning outdoor improvements, there are eight key points for nurseries to consider…
Aims and outcomes: what do you want to achieve? The best free-flow play spaces enable free movement between the indoor and outdoor environments, and allow flexibility to reflect changing factors like weather conditions and seasonal themes.
Budget: whether making CAPEX investment or fundraising for improvements, the API website’s Funding section is a good place to start. See our budget guide later in this piece.
Capacity: how many children will use the facilities at any one time and what will they use it for? Play equipment standards are based on minimum user numbers, not large numbers of children playing at the same time; API member designs are based around maximum usage.
Surfacing: safety surfacing protects against injuries and can be used to create different themed areas. There are man-made and natural surfacing options to consider.
Risk: don’t panic! Risk assessments needn’t restrict children’s enjoyment of playing and being active. Children enjoy and benefit from a degree of risk when playing, so make sure the solution your choose incorporates suitable challenge.
Standards: play equipment and surfacing should conform to relevant standards – they are viewed as best practice. Avoid contractors that dismiss standards.
Post-installation inspection: before children use new equipment, a post-installation inspection should take place. A registered, certificated Register of Play Inspectors International (RPII) inspector should check facilities before use.
Repair and maintenance: regular servicing and replacement of worn-out parts is essential to keep play equipment safe and compliant. API members provide nationwide maintenance and repair services.
So you’ve made the decision to update your facilities, but how do you decide how much to spend and what to buy? As a rough guide, and allowing for variables, minor improvements that make the most of a fairly small area with multipurpose equipment and appropriate surfacing will cost under £5,000. For large-scale improvements that enable effortless free flow from indoors to outdoors, including fixed equipment, allow £10,000+, and for a complete transformation of existing play areas or the creation of new facilities from scratch, costs could be significantly higher.
Of course, every nursery is different and the number of variables considerable. Good contractors will approach every design individually to meet your specific objectives, budget and brief.
Rest assured, by improving your outdoor facilities for learning and play, you’ll be making a sound investment. API members design equipment specifically to support learning and development. High-quality facilities can also help improve Ofsted judgements and attract new admissions.
Most beneficial to under-fives’ are resources that encourage exploration and discovery, and support gross and fine motor skills and hand-eye coordination – from imaginative play, den-building and sensory play, to mark making and nature play. For nurseries on a tight budget, flexible, multipurpose or non-prescriptive equipment that addresses multiple development priorities is an effective solution.
Telltale signs your outside space needs an update:
1. Equipment has reached the end of its usable life or is unsafe.
2. Facilities no longer meet the requirements of the EYFS.
3. Children have lost interest.
4. Lack of relationship between indoor and outdoor space for free-flow play.
Reasons to use an api member:
● Experienced, expert play professionals.
● Committed to high standards, quality and customer service.
● Abide by a Professional Code of Conduct.
● Financially stable.
The API campaigns for policy recognition of the value of play because government is yet to acknowledge play’s vital importance to child development, health and wellbeing. Physical inactivity poses as big a threat to public health as smoking, and children need time, space and opportunity to be active. Nurseries have a vital part to play in that and the API is here to help them make the very most of their outside space.