In the first year of Free Rangers opening, we did some serious development of our blank canvas. From the outset, we knew our outdoor space was special and we didn't take it for granted when planning its conception (nor do we now!) Our brief: to make it as appealing, varied and challenging a space for our little adventurers as possible, turning bare grass into the tangible, climbable, and jumpable. We built it, and they came. But that was a long, long time ago...
We've been using the Timber Trail extensively over the past few weeks to look at our bodies, through strength, confidence in movement, balance, as well as developing a greater understanding of our own bodies. After installing the original assault course, I soon observed our little Free Rangers, quickly became adept navigating it, their confidence building with each completed pass. Additions have been added over the years to maintain interest and challenge, but we came to the decision that although we loved its rustic charm, it definitely needed some TLC. Last year during Forest School we armed the children with tools and took it apart, redesigning and rebuilding it as we went. The children would provide their own input into what they wanted the new and improved Timber Trail to look like. We took cues from many different aspects of their play: Where did they play the most? How, what and why did they play in this space? What new additions would extend and benefit their existing play? What should stay? What should go?
Then the dismantling began. Some parts were in dire need of replacing like the big wooden reel that provided so much joy but was no longer fit for purpose, despite being patched up and various parts replaced already. But in the process of dismantling, we tried to save as much material as possible, testing the strength and weight bearing capabilities the best way we knew how: by trying to break it! We purchased large wooden posts to use as the children saw fit, but aimed to reuse materials that pre-exist on the site. We experimented with various designs, banging posts in, screwing down bridges, rolling tyres, and tying lengths of rope to see how the children responded to it.
As the children travelled, we questioned them on how easy it was for them? Was it safe? What else might they like there instead? The design changed with every session, with the children adding their own direction and thoughts. After ramming fence posts in for a stepping/balancing element, we noticed an interest in height as they attempted to climb up and slide down the poles. To enable this I cut 'mouths' (and later eyes!) to enable the children to not only climb up but also across and through and so the "Post Forest" was born. And after that a new raised bridge, "tyre tower" and a climbing wall was built and dug into the mud hill.
Interestingly, there were times when the Forest Schoolers wanted to put original pieces back in their places as it was what they knew and could successfully navigate, but the general consensus was newer was better. As the weeks progressed, it took shape and is now, nearly finished (I just need to build a rope bridge or something, we've not quite figured out what yet...)
As our older children left the Nursery, I reflected on the input they had on the design and shape. The new Timber Trail has it's origins in these children featured in the photos. I kind of see it as a leaving present from one group to the other; a sort of nod of approval from the veterans to the new recruits. It's rather lovely don't you think? We were out on the Timber Trail this week, and because we work in this space every day, you often forget just how lucky not only we are to be able to work here, but that your children get to access this too. It's had plenty of use since then and seems to be holding up well!
Is it finished? Nope. Will it ever be? I hope not!