For the 2016-17 school year I am working with the after-school program at Creative Kids Education Centre. When I first started in September they had a fabulous outdoor space, but the kids weren’t keen to play in it because “there was nothing to do”. Well, there was a big pile of tires, and lots of milk crates, but admittedly not much else.
In October a work party anchored most of the tires into the ground in a big circle to make a great space for jumping and leaping and hopping on one foot from hole to hole. This has greatly improved the functionality of what was a big empty space and is now ‘the tire area’.
Further to the back of the yard, behind the school, we have create a loose parts area that we call ‘the shady area’. Students have access to buckets full of sheets, tarps, and pieces of rope, a bunch of old wooden palettes, a bin full of pieces of plastic pipe, and a heap of wood in various shapes, sizes and lengths. A large fort made of palettes has also been constructed and makes a great climbing apparatus.
To reach the ‘shady area’ from the ‘tire area’ there is a small wooded space full of tree roots and dips in the ground, which collects water just perfectly in damp weather, and now in the winter is a perfect little slippery spot for playing ‘hockey’ with pipes, for bashing and smashing ice, and just generally practicing how to walk (and fall!) on ice.
We encourage parents to bring us their old and unused pots, pans, kitchen utensils, pipes and wood to continue to expand our collection. Old kitchen stuff is great fun for mixing ‘potions’ from natural materials such as dirt, sand, rocks, tree leaves & needles, and all manner of interesting stuff they find lying around.
For the more adventurous, the back section of the property is heavily wooded, with a variety of wide and narrow paths. The children often play games of tag and hide & seek in the woods, improving their balance and coordination along with listening and observation skills. Several students who seemed very clumsy and uncomfortable in the woods are now, six months later, very comfortable in the woods, and not falling nearly as often if at all.
Although there was initially some concern from a few staff members about sending kids home filthy and often damp (if not soaked), parent feedback has been very positive, often saying the dirt and wet is a clear indicator that their child had a good day, and they are always pleased to hear what adventure we’ve been up to now.
Our after-school program’s reputation is growing, as parents hear from their kids and kids’ friends that this is a great place to get lots of outdoor play after school!