NEW FEATURE! Focus on Dimension 4 – The Physical Environment

This is a new section that will look at the Dimensions through progress reports that settings have completed. We are pleased to be showcasing these and give thanks to the settings for sharing them.

This case study from Upper Horfield Children’s Centre demonstrates how the Bristol Standard helped the team to identify an action and work towards developing their outdoor learning environment. Lead teacher Kate Irvine talks through the development:

Upper Horfield Children’s Centre

The Children’s Centre serves a community in a regenerated housing estate in North Bristol and is linked to Upper Horfield Community School. The Centre provides Nursery education for 3 & 4 year olds, funded 2 year places and additional paying day care places. It also provides family support to children and families across the reach area, as well as families accessing nursery provision at the centre. The Children’s Centre team have used the Bristol Standard to support their reflective practice and self-evaluation for many years. They have also recently been part of the pilot for the Bristol Standard health priorities.

The large outdoor area was very plain and lacked interest and provocations for learning. This meant that practitioners had to put additional effort into creating and resourcing outdoor play provision. There was no provision for climbing and jumping within the existing site, or green spaces.Previously, our outdoor area was limited to a narrow veranda alongside the rooms and use of the school playground outside of the school day. This meant that children had no experience of grass or trees at nursery and the only natural resources were ones imported into the setting. The space was confined, and the lack of proper free-flow limited children’s opportunities to develop and sustain their interests and concentration skills. Large physical play was limited and had to be restricted to times when children could access the large playground.

Our Bristol Standard helped to identify and clarify the urgency and importance of our needs to improve outdoor play provision. It helped to inform and support our capital funding bid. The outdoor provision was identified as a main priority from our main submission and first interim. The targets helped to inform the briefings for the steering group, community consultation and project management.

A playground steering group was formed with the school and the children’s centre. We applied for and acquired capital funding from the Local Authority. The community was consulted about what they wanted and plans developed with high quality Early Years provision in mind. A vardo structure which is a traditional horse-drawn wagon used by British Romani people as their home was included to reflect the culture and heritage of our Gypsy Roma Traveller community.

The Bristol Audit for Early Years Provision Outdoors was also used to formulate specifications and ensure quality for the tenders for design and build. Architects and landscape designers were appointed and the steering group worked with them to completion.

The works were extensive, involving the whole school site and took six months to complete.

The things we can do now that we couldn’t before are:

  • Experience green spaces daily
  • Experience trees and leaves daily
  • Experience different shaped leaves & textures of plants
  • Experience smells of herbs and plants every day
  • Climb up, over and through large structures
  • Climb on large rocks, wooden structures
  • Experience and practice steps and hills
  • Climb and crawl over uneven ground – vestibular development
  • Have permanent spaces for communication and ‘being’
  • Be able to free-flow properly – allowing time for children to maintain and sustain interests and concentration
  • Be more physical for more of the time
  • Take more risks in their play – jumping, climbing, swinging off


The benefits to the children of the new developments have been that:

  • Children settled quickly in September as they were able to access a lot of outdoor play.
  • Children have calm outdoor spaces, and space to ‘be’.
  • Children have permanent mud kitchen play available daily.
  • Children have more opportunity for communication with each other, sharing the area and working together.
  • Practitioners have more time to enhance and develop learning opportunities outside and inside as they are not setting up the area from scratch each day.
  • Staff have more time to support interactions
  • Children have large spaces and small contained spaces to communicate with peers and adults.
  • Children have opportunity for daily large scale play, climbing and gross motor development.
  • Children can interact with older children from the school over the fence and through the child-level ‘windows’
  • Opportunity for improving well-being through interaction with the outdoors
  • Opportunity for more vitamin D by being outside more of the time
  • More social interaction opportunities


Comments from the practitioners about the impact of the changes:

“The climbing frame has been the best addition; it really helps their physical development. Many children won’t get daily opportunities to use equipment like this when they do onto school. They climb, they learn to co-ordinate their bodies, and they jump and swing upside down. They couldn’t have any of those experiences before, and many won’t do much later, so it’s really important.” – Ceri, EY practitioner

“The new playground is amazing. Just the fact that we now have engaging opportunities and space for independent play, green spaces and a chance to connect with nature. There are different textures and gradients to help develop balance and proprioceptor skills, and in the spring it was just lovely to see the children release their butterflies into their garden and watch them fly around.” – Elizabeth, team leader

“The children now have a broad choice of free play exploration, and real-life experiences with nature, as well as greater opportunities for physical development. You can see the impact in the improvement in the children’s physical development outcomes this year, compared to previous years. Children now have opportunity to assess and manage their own risks, and test their own capabilities, developing perseverance and resilience.   They also have a lot more to chat about a now, and practitioners are able to develop interactions at a much deeper level.” Lou, Room Leader.

Comments from children:

“I like everything! But I like the climbing best.”

I like the mud kitchen because I can make cakes!”

“The caravan, and the house and all of the hoops are best for me”

“I make burgers and sauce in the mud kitchen!”

“We can run, but sometimes a little stone comes in my shoe and I have to get it out!”

Finally Kate Irvine talks about the biggest impact for the setting of the new developments:

“It’s hard to sum up the impact of our new outdoor area on our children, it has been transformational. The main difference I see is how children now have more opportunities to play with a purpose and become deeply involved in their chosen activities. The open-ended nature of the outdoor provision allows children to show sustained interest and practitioners are able to better support them to extend their learning.  The practitioners are able to see and support the Characteristics of Effective Early Learning much better now, and it shows in the way the children explore and interact, and the progress they make.

The green spaces are very calming and we have quiet areas where children can just ‘be’ as well as areas for big noisy play, which is important for many of our children who may not get such opportunities elsewhere. The mud kitchen gets very muddy and supports fantastic interactions and cooperation between children, as well as with the adults. It’s almost impossible to remember how it used to be!”