Friday, March 30, 2012

Creating an Outdoor Classroom

Our Sand and Water Wall
A couple of years ago, I decided that it was time to really put some time and effort into transforming our outdoor play area into an outdoor classroom.  Honestly, it is not as hard, expensive, or time intensive as you may think. Small changes make a HUGE difference in the opportunity you provide for children to learn and grow.  I was able to gather so much inspiration from around the web, that I was able to create wonderful learning spaces for our children.

Our Outdoor Music Area
One of the first areas we worked on is our outdoor music area. We made a giant drum out of a tractor tire, and we created xylophones/chimes on our fence. We also made a banging station with lids from pots and pans and added a (garbage can) thunder drum! This area is continually evolving- and is utilized nearly every day... even in the winter snow!
Our Mud Pie Kitchen
Another area we have added to our play space is a mud pie kitchen. The children LOVE to make mud pies when the ground is not covered with snow. When the winter weather hits, they opt to make snow cakes instead! Our space was put together with a couple of shelves, a wooden spool for a table and a bunch of wooden dishes and metal pans. The spice shelf was found for free at a yard sale! We collect all kinds of things to add to the kitchen like grasses, pine cones, acorns, shells, etc. (You can read more about our mud pie kitchen on our blog.)
An Easel on the Fence
Adding a piece of painted plywood to the fence is an easy way to create your own outdoor easel. This piece is connected to the fence with hinges and has a piece of 2x4 connected to the bottom in order to have it hang at an angle.
We use the easel for painting, but decided to add a coat of homemade chalkboard paint to give us an outdoor writing area.
We also added the chalkboard paint to many of the horizontal strips on our fence.

Our Outdoor Stage
We also added a portable stage. This was created by using shower curtains and a portable clothes rack! Simple and inexpensive with HOURS of fun!

One of the VERY first things we did to transform our space was to add a giant sandbox.... 19 tons of sand! The sand was the most expensive piece of our transformation- but has been by far the very best investment we made!

Our play area is also filled with all kinds of loose parts! The children love to move the tires around. They create ramps with pieces of lumber... and obstacle courses are often being created!

Our outdoor space still has some of the traditional play space areas- a basketball hoop, bikes, swings and a slide, a playhouse.... but the children tend to migrate towards the engaging spaces we have created for extended educational play! If you are looking for additional outdoor inspiration, you can visit the Outdoor Inspiration page on my blog! 

Do you have an engaging outdoor space?  

I'd love for you to link it on up!!!!

The linky rules are simple...
The post much include a description of your outdoor learning space or a segment of it!
Adding our button to your post would be greatly appreciated!

PreK + K Sharing
<div align="center"><a href="" title="PreK + K Sharing "><img src="" alt="PreK + K Sharing " style="border:none;" /></a></div>

 More About Amy

Amy Ahola is the owner/operator of Child Central Station, group home daycare and educational toy store in Marquette, Michigan.  She has been running her own business since 2005. Prior to that time, Amy worked in a childcare center and public school. In addition to her childcare business, Amy also provides educational training sessions. Amy earned a Bachelors of Science in Psychology from Northern Michigan University and a M.S. in Training, Development, and Performance Improvement.  For more information about any of her programs, please visit Child Central Station or Find her on Facebook


  1. OH. MY. GOODNESS. I am in LOVE with your outdoor space!!!!! I teach Kindergarten at a very small Catholic school in the middle of Oklahoma City. We are surrounded by houses on all sides and have a parking lot for a playground :( However, our priest is in the process of moving to a house across the street and has agreed (with a lot of prodding!) to let me use the backyard space for my "Kindergarten Garden!" The grassy space is very small, and he'll be using the driveway in the backyard as well as the shed, so that leaves me a corner of grass that is probably about 10 feet by 20 feet...The kids and I are going to pull weeds next week to get it ready then see what we can come up with! I LOVE everything you did with the fences. I'm going to send this link to my principal and see what all we would be allowed to do! I'm also going to share your link on my blog because this is too fun not to share. Have you heard of the reggio emilia schools? This reminds me a lot of that. :) Thanks again,
    Kristina @

  2. Kristina- Please Share Away! Thanks for stopping by to comment! Sometimes smaller spaces can be challenging. One thought I have for you is to create something like the sand and water wall, and use one side for that and the other side could be your outdoor music. In addition to what I have here, I have a page called outdoor inspiration on my blog. There are oodles and oodles of other similar ideas and how different people have adapted the ideas to make it work for their spaces! I'll hop on over and check out your blog later today when I have some more time! I'm at a conference and am excited to learn/hear more about outdoor classrooms this morning! I'll be sure to post what I learn on my personal blog soon!

  3. I am so lucky that I got to design our playground - we have 'nothing' - so I have an empty slate to create - Your playground and others have inspired me!

    1. Leeanne- It is so much fun to have an opportunity to make all of those changes and design a new space! I hope you have as much fun as we have been having! It has been kind of nice to have an early spring around here! Have fun and good luck!

  4. Great article Amy, love anything on outdoors and am always scouring the web for outdoor play ideas from around the world. Thanks for including a link up of more ideas.

    1. Your welcome Lesley! I have oodles of other ideas linked up on my personal blog (under outdoor inspiration) and on Pinterest! I'm always looking for ways to improve our outdoor space.

  5. Wow! So many amazing experiences in your yard ... LOVE the outdoor music area and mud pie kitchen! I was always making mud pies as a child. How I would have loved a mud pie kitchen! I linked up my Montessori-Inspired Outdoor Environment post. It isn't about just one environment but does have lots of outdoor activities and links to some amazing Montessori outdoor classrooms. I pinned your post to Group Board: Professional Development in Early Childhood Education at

    1. Thanks Deb :). I'm always looking for ways to enhance our learning environment inside and out. Thanks for linking up!

  6. How did you make the tractor tire drum?

    1. The tractor tire is dug part of the way into the ground and partially filled in. We did this to secure it in place and to prevent water from pooling in the tire. We have tried a number of different drum heads, from various materials to treated plywood. The plywood lasted for quite some time, but it did eventually warp too.. So, now we have a plexi-glass top for it. The photo above shows the plywood.

  7. Any ideas for a public school cement lot playground area? i have a metal chainlink fence and asphalt. I"m looking for practically free ways to make it more inviting. I'm definitely going to try attaching some music making items to the fence.
    alovegenie at

  8. I want to come to your day care!!!! I LOVE, LOVE, LOVE everything you've done!! I'm a music therapist, so the outdoor music space is fantastic! I also love the fact that you let kids be kids and let them play, not only in the dirt, but in the MUD!!! That's fabulous!! You're an inspiration! I can only imagine what you do inside :)


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