Skip to content

Giant’s Garden

Giant's Garden

Giant’s Garden

This work was commissioned by the Rising Sun Countryside Centre as a managed space specifically designed for the early years age group. I was responsible for both the design and construction of the space. The following text has been edited from an original article by Linda Lines – Education Officer (Rising Sun Countryside Centre).

The Rising Sun Country Park is a 400 acre site in North Tyneside comprising; an organic farm, woodlands, meadows, ponds and a Visitors Centre.  There is an education service which offers environmental education to children and young people from the Foundation Stage through to ‘A’ level work. It also offers informal environmental based play provision and provides training in working with children outdoors for professionals and other interested individuals.

The education programme takes a creative approach to environmental education, recognising the arts as integral to interpreting the landscape.  This approach enables children and young people of mixed abilities and backgrounds to access the many possibilities the natural environment offers and make visible their responses to the experiences.

Many of the early years opportunities offered up to now at the country park are about the children playing in ‘wild’ areas.  This is a valuable experience that most children rarely have in their daily lives.  We continue to offer this, but also aim to extend the creative possibilities that nature offers, especially for the very young.

The idea for ‘The Giants Garden’ came from watching young children play in the natural environment.  Observing the choices they make of who to play with, where to play and then creating all that is needed from what they find around them.

It began with a made up story about a giant shaking trees and breaking branches just because he could, until all the creatures told him to stop because he was hurting so many other things.  Later on the child who had been taking part in making up the story came across a large moss covered stone. She sat beside it and stroked it looking closely at the detail.  “It’s like a garden”, she said, “a giant’s garden!”

The significance of the name became apparent while watching the way she played.  She added or took things away, arranged them as she wanted and decided who could join in.  She was the giant; she was in charge of this garden.  She was able to determine how this environment developed.   Soon other children started making their own gardens nearby, discussing their decisions as they made them, and showing obvious pride in their creations.

The value to children of being able to shape their own surroundings through creative play is well recognised.  A thoughtfully managed outdoor natural space lends itself particularly well to this kind of play.  With this in mind, the Rising Sun Countryside Centre commissioned Keith Barrett to design and construct a landscape specific to early years play and learning in a sunny, sheltered area of approximately 700 sq. metres next to the education room, and quarry woods.

The design of the garden was approached lightly.  It is easy for adults to over design in their enthusiasm to provide what they perceive as a beautiful or magical place.  Therefore observations of how children play and adult’s sensitive interpretations of these were crucial in the development of the area.  It should always be a place of beginnings and possibilities, not designated zones with pre determined uses.

The area is a structured space that compliments the wildness of the quarry. Some things are in place, for example a running water feature adds another dimension to the exploratory play that already takes place down in the ‘muddy swamp’ of the woods, a cultivated growing area, a hill and some living willow, but there is also a range of materials that can be manipulated by the children to give them some sense of control over the environment.

There is direct access from the garden to a large indoor area with toilets, changing facilities and space to carry out activities should it be necessary to occasionally work indoors.

Management of the Area

The careful management of the area is important if its potential to contribute effectively to the child’s development is to be maximised.  Trained staff are present to support the children’s explorations and monitor health and safety issues.  The Garden does not operate as an open access facility.  Groups such as Parent and Toddler, nursery classes etc. book regular sessions that allow them sole use of the Garden for that time.

This arrangement offers huge benefits for the children, parents and carers.  The area is secure allowing the children the kind of autonomy they don’t often experience at this age, building their confidence.  With the support of staff, parents and carers can become involved with the children’s creative play.  There are also the opportunities to gain new skills and acquiring ideas about ways to play outside that don’t involve expensive resources.

Training Opportunities

At the Rising Sun we have noticed an increased demand for training in working outdoors with children.  The Foundation Stage encourages practitioners to give equal status to the planning of their outdoor and indoor areas.  Many parents and carers are losing the skills of imaginative play – especially outside – as each generation grows up with less outdoor freedom and more indoor ready made entertainment.

‘The Giant’s Garden’ can be used as a venue for twilight training sessions,  giving educators the skills and confidence to take ideas back to their settings for the development of their own gardens.  The physical design of the area can also be used as a model of good practice encouraging practitioners to rethink the presently accepted model of an outdoor area with brightly coloured fixed equipment and flat mown grassed spaces.

The whole area offers a range of sensory experiences and physical challenges.  For the children to gain maximum benefit from these opportunities, staff, parents and carers must be able to recognise the possibilities and feel confident enough to take risks in allowing the children to test themselves in challenging situations.

Fulfilling Educational Goals

The recent final report of the Urban Green Spaces Taskforce, “Green Spaces, Better Places” highlighted the fact that younger children require different types of play spaces and sometimes feel intimidated by older children in play areas.  The report also promotes better use of local green spaces as educational resources.

The Giant’s Garden in part addresses the above issues while supporting other targets within Early Years initiatives. Particularly Sure Start’s objective of improving children’s ability to learn through the provision of high quality environments that offer stimulating and enjoyable play. It also contributes significantly to the early learning goals in all six areas of the Foundation Stage, most obviously in the areas of, ‘Knowledge and understanding of the world’ and ‘Physical development’.