Field Reshaped for Natural Play

A large grass field is reshaped for play by adding footpath, shelter structure and specimen trees. Year 4 help to build a natural play area with dens, medieval village and artwork.

See what the project involved, and see the difference as we revisit the site in the West Midlands 14 years later.

1. Initial Design Work and Planning (Jan-Feb)

Improving Grass Field
The school had a large grass field which the parents had to negotiate in taking and collecting their children form school.  A footpath would make it much easier, and a waiting shelter was also desired which could double, at that time, as some sort of outdoor classroom. 

footpath and shelter added to field
Following the design, the main infrastructure was installed
(see Part 3 below)
shelter for parents and outdoor classroom

Involving Pupils 
The Head and Deputy wanted one of their post SAT classes to be involved with building and artwork.  We envisioned a ‘Medieval Village’ with various dens/buildings and a Maypole, a few natural play features….all set within a tree scape which would mature to create an unusual adventure play space. 

pupils make dens
digging in posts for dens
Year 4 make dens

Arboretum Area for Natural Play 
The footpath would naturally separate a distinct part of the field which was beneficially sheltered by some boundary conifers which had grown large.  It was a perfect microclimate to create an unusual treescape similar to an arboretum. 

Many schools do not have the established shelter to create such a scheme, as a result tree projects are often about establishing that initial shelter which makes winter use of grounds so much easier. (see Ensuring Effective Tree Planting 1)

grass field reshaped for natural play area with path, shelter, specimen trees and medieval village
The conifer backdrop offered a sheltered microclimate for establishing the trees.

2. Year 4 help to ‘Make a Medieval Village’ (May -1 week)

This was a very enjoyable week for all involved, the Year 4 class had finished some tests and had all week to take turns building, digging, making a simple storytelling area, and a variety of dens and informal structures etc.  An art project happened at the same time.

making medieval village
constructing huts with willow walls
Year 4 painting the maypole
Year 4 creating the friendship stop
building a willow tunnel structure

3. Main Infrastructure and Tree Planting (Feb the following year – 3 weeks)

Once the path and general infrastructure was installed, it was time to get the local community involved in tree planting.  All went according to plan. 

planting specimen trees
school children plant trees

One of the key features of the planting was a mixture of beautiful conifers and choice deciduous trees.  They were set out at generous spacings to allow future growth and for the character of the trees to flourish.  It was envisaged that in time the Year 4 project would all but disappear, but by then the trees would be beginning to take over, creating natural structures and places to stage running and chasing games; and hide and seek type adventure.  This also went according to plan. 

specimen trees recently planted for school arboretum 2007
Specimen conifer and deciduous trees, 2007
specimen trees planted for school arboretum 14 years later
Same view in 2021

4. Site Revisited 2021 – 14 Years Later

Currently the trees are evolving into a semi-mature phase.  The Headteacher of the school (since the 2006 project), reports that the school children all call that part of the grounds ‘The Garden’, and spend many happy hours playing and learning here. 

new path and avenue planting 2007
Planting cedars along the path 2007
cedar avenue 11 years after planting
Same view 2018
cedar avenue 14 years after planting
Same view 2021

5. Importance of the Maintenance Ladder

Interestingly, we see (below) that the Veg garden established in 2006-9 is still evident here in 2021. However, having had no maintenance for a few years, the original planting has disappeared, offering no value to the school.  The trees on the other hand, which have also had no maintenance, are the opposite – growing away and flourishing in this setting. 

This illustrates something which we have been advising schools for many years – never start an outdoor project with a veg garden.  If you are not used to doing garden maintenance in your school, it is best to avoid growing vegetables at the beginning – these require at least 30 minutes work per day over the spring and summer months.  We recommend planting trees which require 30 minutes work per year!  If you can cope with 30 minutes a year, then go to the next rung of the maintenance ladder.

maintenance ladder- school veg garden requires 30 minutes maintenance per day
maintenance ladder - school trees require 30 minutes maintenance per year

Want to know more about the Maintenance Ladder?  Our forthcoming book will reveal all……

If you find this post useful, please share it with your colleagues.

Back to top