The team at Lantern were very excited to be given a grant to develop their outdoor learning environment in back in 2017. Two years on Nicky Bale visited them to see how things have developed.
Liz Taberner, the previous manager, talked enthusiastically about the impact of the garden development. Children and staff want to be outside, free-flow is much easier now and children’s independence has grown significantly. The garden is always changing with the seasons and children’s interests. It is easier now to cover all aspects of the Characteristics of Effective Learning and the EYFS without needing lots of resources. There is more variety of play with children having more time for deeper play to develop. Liz also feels the garden is a big selling point when parents come to look around.
There have been many benefits for the children –Liz says that taking away walls allows freedom. Language has been enriched as children who are quiet inside (for example reluctant talkers or children with English as an additional language) will talk more readily outside. The garden has also enhanced the experiences of children with SEN and complex needs. Children have developed new fascinations with watching bugs and seeing wood pigeons making nests in the trees. They have been able to set themselves challenges and to manage risk safely, for example going down the slope on bikes.
The team have enjoyed seeing the children become more aware of nature and small creatures. They have been able to have more open conversations amongst themselves and with supply staff about safe risk. Keeping the mature trees has allowed exploration in a different way. Another big bonus is the big windows which, even when the children are inside, bring the garden in.
The parents thought the development was amazing, many simply said ‘Wow’. One parent said “I am really glad to find somewhere with a big space. My children really enjoyed the garden”
During my visit there were many different things going on in the garden. I saw children climbing and challenging themselves to walk across the beam; others were making sandcastles while one boy was riding his bike down the slope with great care and attention. One of the key features to the success of the garden is the large shed where all resources are stored and labelled, enabling staff and children to access and return them to the correct space. This has really enhanced children’s growing independence. This was one of the setting’s Bristol Standard targets and one that the manager Liz felt was the most important part of the development.
There is a lot to be interested in outside with planting at the front of the garden, the mature trees create pathways in one corner of the garden and the big surprise when walking through is to find a wonderful mud kitchen in a secluded spot. A willow tunnel adds further interest to the pathways and there are a variety of surfaces for the children to walk on as well as an expanse of grass. The climbing area has a barked surface so the children have a range of textures to experience.
As I left the garden a practitioner was blowing bubbles for some children to catch and a group of children had just been into the shed and brought out a selection of loose parts to use for their latest construction.
The final word goes to the children who say they enjoy games that are introduced by the practitioners. They like going out in all weathers and making puddles, holes, soup, pies and potions!
Thank you to the team at Lantern for providing the lovely photos for this story.