Outdoor learning environments are finally getting the recognition they deserve with Gill Landscapes Education. No longer simply playgrounds constructed from plastic play equipment, they are now innovative, thought-provoking play sanctuaries with children’s’ learning in mind.
Multiple government sectors are pushing the need for nature play and outdoor learning for our children’s holistic health and our countries future. Our understanding of the importance of Papatuanuku and sustainability has prioritised the importance of the outdoor learning environment for our tamariki. The Department of Conservation has been promoting the need for children to spend more time outdoors, playing in the dirt and developing a love of nature so they will be future guardians.
It is vital to Gill Landscapes Education that we construct thoughtfully designed outdoor learning environments that accommodate our children’s natural engagement. The value of the outdoor environment is being embraced now more than ever, with some centres forgoing the indoor environment completely in favour of a purely outdoor setup or “forest school”.
It’s time to reflect on your space and ensure that it is valuable to your children. The following 6 questions have been designed to question your current environment or your future design and ensure that you are constructing a meaningful learning environment for your centre.
New Zealand is fortunate to accommodate a wide range of early learning centres with a multitude of learning philosophies. Too often, these core values are limited to the indoor environment with little consideration put into the outdoor design. If your key values are Reggio Emilia’s child-directed play then the outdoor environment needs to be constructed in a way that children can easily adapt and modify to facilitate their ideas. If your focus is nature and sustainability based, then real grass, dirt and edible gardens need to be found. Montessori? Create workstations outside too; mirror real life with gardening tools, child sized gardens and real equipment; build a mud kitchen so the children can cook and create.
Look around – What does your outdoor learning environment currently say about your space?
The THREES (Tools; Heights; Rough and Tumble; Exploration; Elements and Speed) have been suggested by the Ministry of Health to promote active play in under 5’s. 
Tools: Hammers, nails, wheelbarrows, Real equipment that show tamariki they are trusted, competent and valued
Heights Does your learning environment include multiple levels, hills, trees to climb or forts? These encourage a sense of adventure.
Rough and Tumble – Is there a designated space where your children can rough and tumble? Sandpits, soft fall areas, barked spaces are a great start.
Exploration – Are there areas for children to explore? Secret hide-aways, cosy nooks, long grasses, sensory paths?
Elements – Have you included a range of elements such as mud, water and sand? What about construction materials? Concrete, Pavers, Timber? Keep the elements varied and interesting.
Speed. Are there spaces for your children to move fast? Bike tracks, running races, slides and swings. A great tip here is to always include 2 slides or 2 swings to enable children to work together to get the timing right or race one another for more exciting play.
 (Ministry of Health, 2017)
Are gatherings or two, three, five or the whole class accommodated? It is expected by the Ministry of Education that outdoor environments will include a range of areas that accommodate individual, small group and large group learning experiences.
As a general guide the “Age + 1” rule can be great to consider:
In a mixed age (0-6 years) setting, areas for groups of 2, 3, 4, 5 and 6 should all be available.
Forts and nooks can be great for encouraging small groups. Lines in the design can also be useful. Pavers create individual squares, automatically creating an individual space or join them together and there is room for everyone! For larger areas, lawns, decks or amphitheatres can be great. Browse our gallery for more ideas.
 (Ministry of Education, 2018)
Is your equipment set for one directed purpose or can children adapt, manipulate and create it to engineer their own space? This is vital for their sense of belonging and autonomy. Taking ownership over their playground design on a daily basis, shows children that their ideas are respected and valued. It also encourages participation and develops a sense of independence. Adaptable climbing areas and loose parts are great as they can be used in a new way each day. It is also important to incorporate simple structures that promote imagination.
The natural environment is an asset. Make sure you are working with what you already have available. If there’s an excellent tree, use it for shade. If you have a hill, slope the slide down it and add boulders and climbing steps. Unlevel ground can be emphasised by creating a puddle and water play area. Have you highlighted the natural treasures your space offers?
In New Zealand ECE multiple standards need to be met. A licensed Early Childhood Education outdoor learning environment must meet the following:
(Standards New Zealand, 2015)
At Gill Landscapes Ltd we know that designing and building a high quality outdoor learning environment is a complex project. Our specialised knowledge enables us to take away the complications and ensure an easy build and straightforward process for you. For help constructing a new playground or reviewing your current outdoor learning environment, contact us. We’ve combined our passions for landscape construction and early childhood education and we’re ready to help.
Gill Landscapes Education know that designing and building a high quality outdoor learning environment is a complex project. Our specialised knowledge enables us to take away the complications and ensure an easy build and straightforward process for you. For help constructing a new playground or reviewing your current outdoor learning environment, contact us. We’ve combined our passions for landscape construction and early childhood education and we’re ready to help. Contact Gill Landscapes today.
Contact us for a quote today