The COVID-19 pandemic has put a new focus on the need for outdoor spaces and the ability to separate groups – but outdoor space is often limited in ECEC, particularly in city and suburban areas.
With a focus on welcoming and innovative play spaces at the heart of their centre’s layout, the team at Newcastle’s Rumpus Room are always looking for new ways to extend play opportunities. Recently, the team came up with the brilliant idea to extend the use of their parking lot between peak drop off and pick up times into an Anji-Play inspired loose parts space.
We spoke with director Ella de la Motte, and educational leaders Niki Moodie and Libby Bridge, about how the idea came about and how it has fostered a new type of self-determination, responsibility and respect among the children.
Scooter Day revealed an opportunity for transformation
According to director Ella de la Motte, the centre first started utilising the parking lot as a temporary play space when they had their first Scooter Day, which has become a regular event.
As our Scooter Days gained traction we started spending more time in the parking lot space. We were having picnics under the trees, dance parties, and swinging on the tyre swing. This prompted us to install a gate for extra safety.
Ella says that the team are constantly reflecting and collaborating on ideas, and these ideas eventually snowballed to create a clear vision of what they wanted to achieve in this large, under-utilised space.
“We view the environment as the third teacher and how it can be transformed to meet the needs of everyone that uses it,” Libby explains. “While a great deal of inspiration on designing the space came from Anji Play, there have been many moments which brought us to this point. They included a staff meeting last year which was spent listening to Nathan Wallis speak on the importance of the first 1000 days and a talk by Marc Armitage on risky play, which inspired us on another level.”
Logistically, Ella explains that the new play area counts as an excursion zone. The Rumpus Room has created an ongoing excursion policy, which allows them to conduct spontaneous excursions within the local area surrounding the service, including the car park space.
Outside of designated play hours, the area still operates as a parking lot, with the addition of a picnic table the staff use for lunch breaks, programming and study, and team meetings.
“During the planning phase we really focused on ensuring the space was still available for parking during peak drop-off/pick-up times, so we limit our usage to between 10am and 2pm. This may change over time, we will see what the patterns of play look like as we progress.”
An exciting opportunity for scavenging and upcycling
The new space includes a wide variety of large scale loose parts collected from around the local area cheaply or for free, with a mix of old, new, natural, and manufactured, as well as a few purpose-built items.
The team started gathering play equipment by finding loose parts wherever they could – from recycling centres to garage sales, from Gumtree to curb-side collections. Wooden planks, ladders, sawhorses, bricks, cable reels and pallets were gradually added to the collection. A new shed was built to enable storage, which made a huge impact on the children’s ability to quickly and independently set up and pack away.
“Our large cubes were built by our handy-man, and are modelled on Anji resources,” shares Niki. “We are adapting the design of the next lot of resources to incorporate more mathematical concepts. They provide that real heavy-lifting component as well as offering height.
“They’re super versatile and seem to be used for something different each time we’re out there. We have lots of ladders, logs, pallets, planks of all sizes, poles and pipes, large wooden blocks, trestles and safety mat. We’re always adding things whenever we come across them. Our staff often arrive with a boot-load of new things to add.”
There is ample space provided for children to move and build, and they are free to transport and construct their ideas individually and in groups.
The Rumpus Room has a daily capacity of 68 children from birth to before school age, and it appears that the new space has really helped to build relationships and understanding between children of different age groups.
Risk exposure leads to shared responsibility and resilience
Niki and Libby say that the team have become increasingly aware of the risks that are present, and the children have benefited from greater exposure to risky elements and a sense of shared responsibility for the younger children in the group.
Many risks that we would have previously tried to eliminate entirely, such as splinters, we have had to accept as almost inevitable, so we’re teaching the children how to interact with the resources to minimise the risk.
Ella and her team have noticed increasing resilience in the children, and awareness of those around them. The children are engaged to take part ownership in ensuring the spaces are safe as they are constructed, which contributes to learning, risk mitigation and a sense of shared responsibility.
“With a little support, children will observe the height of various structures, and decide which ones could benefit from a mat below. They test the stability of their designs, they reflect on how a baby might interact with something if they came over, and they build accordingly or adjust what they have built.”
The new space offers more opportunity for the children to take part in ‘heavy work’, allowing them to engage their core and use a wider variety of muscles throughout their bodies.
“We have noticed less conflict among children, more collaboration and communication, and we have also noticed lessening incidents,” shares Ella. “We’re confident that the gradual build-up of responsibility and the increasing skill levels required within their play space has made the children more aware of their bodies, more capable, and more confident to manoeuvre their bodies throughout space.”
A renewed enthusiasm for play
Since the addition of the car park play area, The Rumpus Room team say they have noticed an increased level of enthusiasm and passion for play. More specifically, mixed ages scaffolding the learning with each other as they communicate ideas and solve problems.
“In all that we do we try to empower children and we believe that is of utmost importance,” says Niki. “A child’s sense of self-worth is so powerful and we aim to build up our children’s self-confidence every day, supporting their sense of agency, encouraging them to be confident and reminding them how truly capable they are.
When children feel respected, trusted, are given responsibility, and creative freedom, there are no limits to what they are capable of.
View more of the car park playspace creations via Instagram @therumpusroomau.
1 Source: Wikipedia
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