Designing an effective play area

For this week’s post I’m very pleased to be able to share another of Kathy Brodie’s interviews with people who champion being, playing and learning outdoors for every child – this time from Julie Mountain, long-time Landscapes for Early Childhood friend, former Learning through Landscapes colleague, and passionate advocate for ‘no child left inside’.

Julie is qualified in landscape design and specialises in supporting schools and early years settings so that they can make the most of the potential of the outdoors for learning and play.  As an experienced trainer and facilitator, she and colleagues Mary Jackson, Felicity Robinson and Peter Carne launched the social enterprise Play Learning Life CIC in 2010 , in order to focus on outdoor projects in and with schools, settings and families.

Julie regularly writes articles on play and learning outdoors for Nursery World, has published two books, 100 Ideas for early years practitioners (Bloomsbury 2015) – which is available at 20% discount (postage free) through our collaboration with Books Education – and The Little Book of Free and Found (Bloomsbury 2013), and facilitated the highly successful project Outdoors and Active with settings in the London Borough of Newham.

A recent highlight in Julie and Mary’s work has been a research visit to kindergartens in Japan, with a focus on how their practice supports and grows resilience in early childhood.  I recommend having a browse through the 5 free case study resources ‘Risk-taking and resilience: lessons from Japanese kindergartens‘, focusing on: routines, surfaces, fixed equipment, physicality and natural areas.  Julie will be sharing her learning experiences in Japan with us at the 2022 Early Childhood Outdoors annual professional gathering, so do keep an eye out for this in the future!

In her recent interview with Kathy Brodie for Early Years TV, Julie discusses how to assess and consider outdoor spaces that just aren’t working, how to improve outdoor spaces in general, the many benefits for children when they are in a great outdoor space, and some fascinating local and international projects where she has designed effective, fun and suitable play spaces.


In this segment from the full interview, she describes the starting points, process and results of working over a period of time with the team and families at Oliver Thomas Nursery School in Newham: the photographs in this post show a little of what went on and what was achieved.

As well as the wonderful and functional transformation achieved, what particularly stands out for me is the way that thoughtful and active involvement of the children throughout the whole process has yielded so much more than in many outdoor space upgrades.

Taking things slowly and harnessing everything along the way for children’s all-round development is so clearly the way to go: Danny’s enhanced view of himself as Beni carries out his knowledgable and competent instructions must have powerful emotional effects!

You can watch the full interview with Julie Mountain with a subscription to Early Years TV.  Julie also participated in the Early Years Summit on Outdoor Play and Learning.

There are now 8 summits you can watch, each with a wide range of interviews on leading themes.  With 9.5 hours of video, the summit dedicated to Outdoor Play and Learning also features Professor Jan White, Menna Godfrey, Erin Kenny, Robin and Toni Christie, Michael Follett, Dr Sue Elliott, Dr Natalie Canning, Julie Ann White, Angela Hanscome, Dr Ruby Red Scarlet, Kathryn Solly, Terri Harrison, Juliet Robertson, Clare Warden and Liz Edwards.

If you purchase any of Kathy Brodie’s Early Years Summits through this Affiliate link, a donation will be made to Early Childhood Outdoors.

All photographs are (C) Julie Mountain.  Images must not be used without written permission from the photographer or Early Childhood Outdoors.

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