Developing Our Outdoor Areas
Trythall’s Outdoor Developments
Last year’s end of term barbecue, including a fantastic children’s performance of Jack and the Beanstalk in our new performance area was a landmark occasion for Trythall School. As well as celebrating the creativity that we feel is so important for children, it was about recognising our achievement in developing our outside areas over the last few years. The gardens at Trythall are very special and everyone involved in the project should be very proud of what we have achieved as a local community.
There is no doubt that the garden has always been special. Any ex-Trythall pupil will have fond memories of exciting outdoor play-times. However, some features in the garden were falling into disrepair and there was a feeling that further development could be part of our vision for outdoor opportunities for the children.
Our vision goes further than simply trying to take indoor lessons outdoors but recognising the unique contribution that the outdoors can make to children’s learning and wider development. The natural world is a place for exploration, learning about risk, building confidence and escaping into the imagination.
Learning opportunities outdoors had to be built into (not bolted onto) our curriculum. We could see the opportunity to create an area that would facilitate an effective outdoor curriculum and allow children to maintain a relationship with the natural environment that previous generations of Cornish children have enjoyed.
The project started by involving school stakeholders in creating a picture of what the outdoor area should look like. We formed an extremely valuable partnership with Oak Grove College in Sussex. We were extremely fortunate that Dr William Bauress, Outdoor Learning Coordinator at Oak Grove, was instrumental in getting us working in the right way and has put countless of work into the project. William is not someone who has jumped on the ‘outdoor bandwagon’: he has 30 years experience of working with children outdoors. Without his guidance the project could never have enjoyed such success.
Early developments were about giving the children places to grow their own food in raised beds. Not hidden away and forgotten about in some distant allotment but in the places where children work and play every day. The peas are very popular, the only encouragement the children need is to give them a chance to grow before gobbling them down as playtime refreshments. It would be a shame to ration them; we just try to grow enough to keep all 43 children satisfied. To complement the new growing areas we built a greenhouse out of recycled plastic lemonade bottles and have recently added an African style Keyhole garden, in which vegetable scraps, put into the feeder, rot down and fertilise garden to grow potatoes.
Since we were originally advised to fill the pond in, the decision to keep and develop this area was a great victory for the children, who desperately wanted to keep it. The small pond with a defunct barrier was transformed. This development was only made possible by strengthening an old partnership with Jon Brookes and the National Trust. They helped us redesign the area so that rainwater, collected from the school roof, flowed into a lager pond before flowing into an additional bog area. The pond was surrounded by large flat granite slabs. As well as looking beautiful, the slabs allowed the children to safely get down to water level and find out what’s in there. In order to create a safe area, we built a small Cornish hedge which ,as well as being in keeping, is the ideal feature for helping wildlife. Yes- the children could climb over the hedge but they don’t. They understand the rules because they helped make them, and as a result, they stick too them. You can’t expect children to be safe around water unless they have experience of it. The pond is designed specifically for a school and has been a great success. Pond dipping is not something restricted to a lesson once a year or 2: like footballs the pond dipping equipment is made available most playtimes.
Foundation Stage Area
The Foundation Stage Area (for 4 to 5 year olds) was of great importance as the youngest children need to spend a significant proportion of their time outdoors. The first thing that was needed was some boundary hedges and gates to define the area and improve security. This also allowed us to achieve ‘free flow’ between indoor and outdoor areas.
Ali Law from Cornwall outdoors showed us how to make our first willow structures. Working with the children, we now confidently make our own. The most recent one in the Foundation Stage area is a large, topless dome that will encircle a climbing structure.
The giant sand pit and water sculpture have been a great success. Sculpture artist Christian Funnel helped us design and build a stunning feature that looks great and provides valuable opportunities for the children. They pump recycled rainwater, from an underground tank, up onto the beginning of the ‘water chute’. The chute, which runs around the perimeter of the sandpit, is made from a single piece of oak, split in half, channelled out and inlayed with copper. Eventually the water reaches the sand, where the children can play with sand and water in a similar way to playing on the beach. The opportunities for learning, working together and building strength are very important for these young children.
We have also added the playhouse, animal and wildlife areas within the foundation stage area and will soon complete the climbing structure to give a wide range of opportunities for the children.
Looking after animals is very important to children. Yes- you do need to think about who will look after them in the holidays but there is always someone around and the benefits to the school, are immense. We started with chickens and soon added guinea pigs and tortoises. Last year, the chickens recently had their first batch of chicks which the children were able to see hatch.
The other important aspect is promoting and interacting with nature in the area. Garden design is important with bug friendly plants for but the children have made bird and bat boxes one of which has a camera which can be monitored from the infant class.
The New Area
With a clever redesign of our car park, a large new area has been created from what was effectively a ‘dead’ area. A new boundary was needed and the only real choice was building Cornish hedge. Jeff Hoad helped with landscaping the area and starting of the hedge which was finished with further help from the National Trust.
The building of the performance area, ready for the performance on 20th July 2012, was an incredible achievement that involved the whole community getting together. Mini-diggers, driven by parents and friends, rumbled around putting in drainage ditches, while the children started work on their play with the Drama Teacher Shelley Claxton. While the children improvised and rewrote the play, Sean from the National Trust found and delivered the granite needed: large slabs to form entrance and one huge piece to form a standing stone at the entrance. A large team of volunteers from the Cornwall Wildlife Trust built the granite hedge to retain the banks. At the weekends, teams of parents, children and volunteers got together to reshape the ’bowl’ and turfed the whole area in the pouring rain (perfect turfing weather!). Louis Bauress put the finishing touches onto his unique story telling chair, carved from a single massive beech trunk and persuaded solo building Supplies to lift it into place. As the children performed their final practises in the grass bowl, a team of international volunteers, dug a hole for the standing stone and completed the woodchip paths. Finally, the night before the performance, the massive standing stone had to be lifted into place. Enter Spike, legendary for his skills and strength with working granite. Working with a the international volunteers and parents watched by the children it took 3 hours for the stone to be levered and lifted into place.
On the night of the performance, the workers got their reward. After all the work, there was something very special about watching the children show what we had all worked so hard for.
The Field and the Future
Our developments have now moved onto the field. A massive poly tunnel will create our own Eden project with growing zone, tropical zone and outdoor classroom area. Work on this project will continue with international volunteers this Summer. The Celtic Labrynth is lovely for the children and was actually quite easy to make. The large (bald) oval is the site for our wildflower garden. The children collected wildflower seeds from the area last Autumn. These have been germinated to make ‘plugs’ which will soon be planted out.
The amazing climbing structure will soon receive a health and safety certificate and be a fantastic addition for the children. Den building, fire pits and a wind shelter are also being added to the new area.
Finally, we are looking into the possibility of bringing a stream through the garden which would bring some great opportunities for play!
The New Trythall Pre-School
The popular Ding-Dong Playgroup has now been taken under the wing of the school and is now open 5 mornings a week instead of two. This will ensure that local children will get more access to the outstanding opportunities here- including access to our outside areas.
Why Do it Yourself?
It might have been easier to pay a large sum of money to a large company with expensive consultants but we are very pleased with the do-it yourself approach. As well as saving a lot of money but feel that using volunteers and local people we can have a positive effect by working together with the community to produce something that is really tailored to what we need. Every problem encountered is a learning opportunity for us all and because we all built it we all own it and will all look after it.
First-time visitors to our garden invariably have the same reaction, ’What lucky children!’ The many members of the school and community who have given up their time, to design, build, create works of art or just slaved away to create this special place know that luck had very little to do with it.