Sunday, 2 February 2014

Open Ended Spaces

I think everyone is familiar with the term loose parts and we all know a massive sandpit and different textures with some ups and downs and different levels makes a great outdoor play space, but I just wanted to touch on actual spaces within that play environment specifically man made structures.

When I first started working in early years 20 odd years ago - yes, that long! - we all had a Wendy House. I think half way through my NVQ 3 that term became well outdated and swapped for play house, fifteen years later when I finally got round to do my degree times had changed again and 'open ended' was a word that was often bandied about.

The best open ended den structure inside or out is either a cardboard box or a sheet over some chairs or a table. Non gender specific, ooodles of opportunity and can change from a lost world of dinosaurs to a full on birthday party boogie spot in a matter of minutes. I was flicking through my Facebook albums today to find some examples of great open ended structures, so here we go...

The first one is a re-cycled den. I saw a similar one at Wychwood Festival - lovely little  festival den video here - I was asked to run a workshop at a pre-school's evening summer fete so amongst other things took some bamboo poles and fabric from scrapstore. We cut elder rounds to poke on the top of the bamboo and arranged the poles in a semi circle around an existing den under the trees. The children - and parents! - loved weaving the fabric in and out and it quickly built up into a colourful curve that in total cost about £4 to make. We ran out of fabric and ended up cutting up carrier bags and plastic aprons!

Denbuilding workshop, Mansion House Pre-School
 This next one is at a new nursery with a garden made up of several levels with a few big drops. They managed this by fencing the top part with wood, cutting peep holes in the wood and then adding an old windsurf sail as a roof which is great as it has a large see through circle in it for sky gazing or watching raindrops.

Snowdrop Cottage
 This is a structure on a nursery with a really windy play area backing on to the village playing field. They created this great open ended structure which could be added to with cushions and blankets, woven through, topped with branches, sparkly muslin or camo net to create infinite possibilities.

Neston Pre-School
 This next triangle is not big enough to sit in - but I think you could make a bigger one - but is a really versatile piece. Could be a shop, farm, cafe, garage, dolls house... the list is endless. It could also house something new everyday to spark curiosity, a couple of beautiful shells, a pile of conkers or even just a sprinkle of sequins.

Box Pre-School
 This is not so much a den but more of an example of real open ended outdoor play in a public space. A colleague (Hello Ella!) put this in to an area that would be used by both the village and prisoners waiting centre. Families may have travelled a long way for a visit and this gave the children somewhere to let off a bit of steam or sit and chat. I'm sure you can already imagine several games that could be played here.

Erlestoke Prison
 I feel this next example is one of the best. It has pots and pans laying around which suggests a mud kitchen but the whole thing is on massive castors so can be pushed around the woods. It can be sat in, laid in and stood next to. It could be a stage, a snug or a garage or shop just like the triangle above.

Woodland Adventurers
So whether you have a roof, wheels or walls, keep it really simple and truly open ended to create as many opportunities as possible. And if you can't afford to put anything new in, you know what to do, get a cardboard box!

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