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