Magic Dragon Outdoor Audit Case Study

Rethinking the Outdoors – an Outdoor Audit Case Study with Magic Dragon Preschool

Running from a church hall in Bishopston, Magic Dragon preschool provides a wonderful environment for children to play, explore and grow and their outdoor space is very much a part of this. Spanning two sides of the building as a sort of back to front ‘L’ shape, it provides a great mix of sunshine and shade and lots of opportunities for learning.  The shape naturally lends itself to being split into 2 different areas and so they have a main garden and a more natural forest area.

Preschool practitioner Martha is the outdoor lead and she has just completed the Bristol Standard Outdoor Audit.  This was recommended by one of the lead teachers as a way of supporting the preschool to reflect on their outdoor provision and to ensure it offers the very best experiences for children.  Martha had looked at some other audits as well but these seemed to be full of things they’d already thought about and were more of a ‘tick box’ exercise.  She liked the Bristol Standard Outdoor Audit as it contained lots of things they hadn’t considered, with questions and ideas that enabled the preschool  staff to work as a team to go on a journey in all sorts of directions they’d not thought of before. Unlike the other audits, it didn’t just state the obvious.  In this way, its enabled them to progress and move forward, rather than just standing still, and has introduced the cycle of continual improvement to the outdoors.

Completing the audit took several weeks and the most difficult thing was finding the time to do it.  Some of it was carried out during session time and some was carried out when the children had gone home.  The audit is packed full of useful, thought-provoking information and Martha started off by reading this and then walking around the space to assess the current provision.  The process then involved introducing the things to enhance the outdoor provision to suit the needs of the current cohort.

Martha said the best thing about the audit is that it encourages you to reassess your outdoor space and rethink what you provide for the children. She feels it’s really highlighted some key things that they’ve now been able to address.  Whilst it’s not been possible to action everything suggested in the audit, due to space and time constraints, there has been a lot that they have been able to do. One such thing is they previously didn’t have many photos of children playing outdoors and as a result of the audit, they’ve created a photo book of this that the children now enjoy looking through and that has been shared with the parents.  Martha said the children love looking at themselves and this has helped them to really feel seen in the outdoors. The children are given the opportunity to take photos of the things that they find interesting in the garden and these are incorporated in the book too. It also shows how the outdoor space changes with the seasons and how the plants that the children have planted are changing and growing over time and so it supports the children’s knowledge and understanding of the world as well.

Other changes that have happened as a result of the audit include displaying more visuals outdoors, such as numbers and letters, and displaying more culturally diverse images, along with pictures showing life cycles and some of the wildlife that they see in the garden. Indoors they had done this, but not outdoors.  The children noticed the new visuals straight away and they provide inspiration for play and are good springboards for rich conversations.

The audit also meant spending time to really observe how the children use the outdoor space and this has led to more resources being offered and being stored outside so they are more readily available, such as paints, fabrics and footballs.  Collaborative art can now happen on the spur of the moment outside rather than involving preparation before the children arrive at preschool each morning. It has also led to changing the way some of the resources and activities are offered.  For example, rather than just having the mud kitchen, there is now a large tray with soil in as well.  This means the children play with the soil in a more creative and open-ended way.  The mud kitchen, whilst a fantastic resource, tends to be more prescribed by the mere fact that it’s a kitchen.  It has also opened up the activity to those children who don’t tend to use forest area as often, where the mud kitchen is located.

The audit also inspired them to create another separate communication friendly space in the forest garden that is supportive of open-ended play. It is a shaded den area that is designed to encourage the children to play creatively. This was previously a natural play area but inspired by the audit they decided to introduce a covering to make it feel like a more separate zone.

New children have benefited too and part of their settling in now involves tours of the outdoor space and small group times focussed on certain areas to help introduce them to what the garden has to offer.  This helps them access areas in the garden more independently and opens up many more possibilities for play.  It also helps them understand that its ok to get mucky at preschool.

To sum up, Martha said she just found the audit really useful and that it’s been very positive.  The Magic Dragon outdoor space is now even more exciting, inviting and varied and provides for children’s differing needs even better.  Now that’s got to be a good thing, magic even!


The Bristol Standard Team

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