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Outdoors and Active case study: Imaan Pre-school

Imaan is a sessional, pack-away pre-school based in a community centre in Newham.  The outdoor space they’ve used over the past two years is tiny, and this alongside the pack-away requirement, places limitations on how physically active children can be outdoors.  Nevertheless, managers Antje Dragoni-Ouni and Sarah Atchoum tackled the challenges of Outdoors and Active with gusto, beginning with a visioning exercise in which the whole team collaborated on a statement that would set the direction for physicality in their setting:

“Outdoors is special and unique.  Movement is the child’s first language and we value children’s intrinsic joy in movement and mastering physical skills outdoors.  We actively and enthusiastically support, challenge and plan for movement in all weathers and all year round to instil a lifelong love of activity and movement outdoors.”

Their initial audit identified several areas for improvement:

  • The character of the space is affected by the lack of greenery – only one tree, which has decking around its base: more opportunities to interact with green space and natural materials would encourage children to occupy the space more effectively.
  • Moving around is not easy as the space is cramped and limited: organising and zoning the space would allow children to be more energetic.
  • The area must be set up and packed away daily: this chore could be more manageable if children are able to help and be active at the same time.
  • Opportunities to take physical risks are limited: strategies to allow boisterous and challenging play could reduce frustrations and conflict.

The size of the spaces available, and the immovable objects within in (such as the blossom tree, and decked areas) meant that Antje and Sarah needed to look at loose parts resources to increase physical activity levels.  An effective campaign of ‘begging and borrowing’ resulted in the acquisition of crates, logs, breeze blocks, sticks, pallets, stones and a giant elastic ‘scrunchie’, which were immediately put to use outdoors.  A series of fundraising events in partnership with parents yielded £500, which was spent on movement specific items: a hugely popular vestibular ‘dish’, a portable timber bridge, gardening and mud kitchen tools and equipment.  Volunteers joined the team on a number of weekends to help reorganise the space to allow for greater freedom of movement, and in the process created a messy / mud play area and a gardening area tucked into previously awkward nooks, and attached a rope swing to the small blossom tree.  A revamp of storage areas means that children are able to make full use of the new gardening and tidying up equipment, playing a meaningful – and physically demanding - role in the daily routines of the setting.

Antje says, “We’ve observed that children are more physically active now there is more unrestricted space to move around in, and now we as adults are more understanding of the children’s need to ‘boing, whoosh and roly poly’ their bodies.  We are limited by the space we have, but children are inspired by the new loose parts resources and are using them collaboratively to develop their proprioception as well as physical skills such as balance.  Our wish list includes a walk in sandpit and access to the tree (which is fenced off), but I’m not sure these will ever be possible in our space.  Instead, we’re making greater use of the parks and spaces around us, including within our own building – simply taking children up and down the stairs has been a novelty and has definitely left them ‘puffed out and rosy cheeked’.”

This case study was first published in Nursery World magazine, October 2016