I’ve always been spoilt for space in my previous school environments – plenty of indoor space and sprawling outdoor areas – endless opportunity to create open ended play areas, set up obstacle courses or make a house…A couple of years ago it became necessary for me to give up my rented school space and relocate to my own front garden – the problem was it was tiny and not at all what I was used to. It seemed impossible at first that I was going to be able to achieve everything I’m passionate about in my small school space – let alone how I was going to convince my school parents that this was going to be
just as good better than our “old” school.
Once the decision had been made to move I just knew I’d have to be super organised in my planning and implementation. With limited space every piece of ground had to have a carefully thought out purpose and plan for it. I’m very fortunate to have the most patient and supportive husband who listened to my ideas and plans and helped me every step of the way. Together with my dad’s help, what could and couldn’t be done slowly started to take shape and my little school adventure started to grow!
The available school space is comprised of a classroom and bathroom (our old en-suite that we gave up for the tiniest room in the house!), an undercover paved carport area leading from the classroom, a front area and a side area. (I’ve added a pic to get a better idea of the space). Basically the school outdoor spaces wrap around the indoor space and extend around 2 sides of the house. The “narrowness” of it all was a great challenge. I had so many ideas to begin with – it was heartbreaking realising I just wasn’t going to fit everything in!
In the end there were a few spaces I was not going to compromise on and from there it was a matter of measuring the space meticulously and trying to fit them in. Taking into consideration that we needed to be able to see all spaces at all times (impossible for one or two areas), width and height played a big role in where these were placed. My wishlist included a jungle gym, sandpit, dry creek bed, playhouse, outdoor kitchen and loose parts area. Many many drafts, measurements and scribbles later we settled on a basic layout.
I sourced a very compromising jungle gym company who were willing to customise the gym for my space. As I mentioned the space is narrow so it had to be narrow! We managed to configure different climbing levels, a ramp, climbing net, slide and monkey bars all over the sandpit area – which keeps it soft underneath for landing and in return provides shade for hot days when the kids are playing in the sandpit. We made the monkey bars lowish – he was very worried that the children would grow and I had to assure him there would be new monkeys every year so no need to worry! This is one of the best things I could have done – the children are confident to attempt the monkeybars and experiment on their own without adult interference – and if they take a tumble they are guaranteed a short soft landing.
You can see from my pictures that we started with a blank canvas – basically a giant sandpit!! To define the different areas we laid different floor surfaces. These were: sand (for sandpit), bark chips for pathways and island, pebbles for dry creek bed and astro turf for main open space.
We had an unsightly drain exit from the bathroom right in the middle of the exploratory play area which we made a big sturdy removable box to cover. This has worked excellently and doubles as a work surface in the outdoor kitchen. In fact in a number of places my dad managed to make practical box type coverings that have completely hidden areas I initially had night mares about. Like this box below – it’s now a great surface for preparing messy outdoor activities etc.
Looking back this has been one of the most rewarding practical projects I’ve ever undertaken – it certainly had its challenges and I’m still making changes to date – but overall we managed to achieve safe, practical and workable play areas that the children are able to enjoy in a really small space. I’m able to adapt them to a degree and constantly add or change the environment to suit our school mood. The children spend ages searching for frogs, fishing, climbing, splashing, cooking and socialising in their mini playspace.