Nature is a playground

Aimee in log

Seeing yet another amazing but man made climbing frame being installed into a local school’s playground has got me thinking…. Why are we “prescribing” more play instead of allowing children to develop play themselves, interacting with each other, role playing, using their imaginations and creativity.

Installing yet another piece of expensive play equipment …is it really necessary?

Ade and jake on log

What has happened to natural spaces in our schools’ playgrounds?  Some schools are removing nature…completely. I know of one school that removed a beautiful pond, surrounded by decking, (fenced off safely of course!)  It was a space just begging for some eager children to pond dip or wait excitedly for the tadpoles to turn into frogs. It was teeming with life and your could hear the frogs croaking in spring as you passed by their playground.  I’d never known it to be used for such exciting and valuable learning activities. It is all filled in now and guess what??? It was replaced with an artificial blue pond and river, a carpet of blue and green artificial grass. Some may add that this is because health and safety in schools has gone mad.

Another school added artificial grass under some trees. Artificial grass…really? And do you know that the birds that roost and nest in the trees poo all over the pristine plastic grass and it doesn’t decompose? I can only imagine the caretaker having to hose it down regularly or hoover it in autumn. I suppose, next, the trees will be chopped down to save them this job?  Two beautiful mature trees whose leaves turn the most beautiful deep red colour in autumn. Again, so very easy to make beautiful pictures or crafts with these leaves. Very sad.

Let me tell you about my school playground and field.

We had nothing in our playground, except one bench. We were out in all weathers, you were lucky to be allowed in if it was “spitting” (cue Peter Kay sketch.) Now I’m not saying that this is how it should be, but let me explain, the playground was on a slope,  absolutely amazing to make ice slides in the winter. No, we didn’t break any bones, the odd graze maybe but it made us take more care of ourselves, learn to balance and learn not to fall and most importantly, to help each and take care of each other! We were never prevented from sliding down it. We had lovely cuddly dinner ladies who slapped a plaster on and said “Never mind, go and play.” Our playground had a grid in the middle and 4 grids in each corner. Cue “Tick” using the grids as bases. The most popular game we played EVER. Next, if you brought in a long skipping rope, you were suddenly everyone’s best friend. Elastics, clapping games, ball games, bouncy balls was the best. Do you get the picture? We created our own games. We made them up, we interacted, we fell out, argued, made friends again, fell over, got up, got on with it. No equipment was ever provided by the school….except hula hoops which were just boring after a while quite frankly!



Our field was just a normal square school field adjacent to another ordinary square field, separated by a row of “holey” hedge and 4 trees. The main field was our play field and used for sports day the other field was rarely used, I’ve no idea why, we used it for rounders and that was all. It’s now an amazing wooded area. (Well done my old primary school!) BUT, the trees, oh the trees! “Top Tree” and “Bottom Tree.” We could only use the field when it was dry, there were railings and a gate preventing us on using it whenever. This has now changed I believe, the railings have gone. When I was there,  if you got out of class first and ran really, really fast, you could claim Top Tree for your friends. This was the main joy. For Top Tree was a beautiful old oak, it was bare earth underneath, it roots were exposed to make “fireplaces” for cut grass. We played “Houses” interacting, roleplay, pretending to be families, sweeping with branches, using our imaginations and LEARNING. Bottom tree was also beautiful but not as big, it still had fireplaces, if you missed out on claiming Top Tree, Bottom tree would certainly do.

Now, when I met up with an old primary school friend a couple of months ago, some 36 years after leaving that wonderful primary school. Can you guess what we talked about? Top Tree and the joys of playing under it. We both admitted that we had both cried when we learnt a few years ago that it had had to be chopped down due to disease. Grown adults – weeping over a tree, a much loved tree that held many happy memories for our school days.  It was our strongest memory.

Sadly I couldn’t get a photograph of the infamous and much loved Top Tree to share with you, it was the seventies and well, with old style film cameras, we just didn’t take photos like we can do these days. Despite my old Headteacher taking many photos for the school archives, the school couldn’t find a photo for me to use. I also tried asking the villagers and old teachers and school friends to no avail. I so wish I had a photo of it to treasure! The picture in my mind will just have to stay with me forever.

Schools, please don’t remove the nature from your outdoor spaces, please don’t install too much man made equipment. Children are the guardians of our planet and need to learn to love it and nurture it. They may not remember the play equipment, they might remember a beautiful tree.

#nature’splayground is free.

Jake in tree