OPAL’s Approach to Design of Early Years Outdoor Spaces

OPAL has extensive experience in designing outdoor environments which meet the complex development needs of reception age children and also meeting the needs of the adults supporting them.

The case study below shows the transformation that took place at Kingfisher Academy in Bristol. This transformed much more than the physical space, it also transformed practice and behaviour.
OPAL environments are landscapes which support and promote play and playful learning, this has little to do with traditional play equipment and requires knowledge of; early years schema, the demands on staff, acceptable risk-benefit relationships and effective play design principles.

The typical process for development would be.
1. First site visit and observation
2. Developing a brief in consultation with all staff
3. First draft ideas then, consultation
4. First draft plan and 3D model, then consultation
5. Construction
6. Snagging and maintenance

The Importance of a Good Brief


Having a good brief is essential, so that customers get what hey want and need not what suppliers are wanting to sell.
OPAL has consulted with Early Years professionals across the UK to create this design brief. We want to support Early Years staff to be able to challenge providers of play expertise to be able to ask for what children need not what the industry chooses to provide.

A good design will:

1. Be guided by nature – maximising children’s exposure to a rich variety of natural processes and materials.
2. Be unique -reflecting the character and cultures of each setting.
3. Maximise use of free, re-cycled and re-engineered materials
4. Maximize children’s free access to natural and man-made loose parts.
5. Minimise high capital cost features which provide easily mastered challenges.
6. Be a work in progress – maximizing potential for continual on-going enrichment and addition.
7. Create places of change – constant daily and seasonal change and improvisation.
8. Minimise features that the client could provide for themselves with a little good advice
9. Combine expert knowledge of play with a sympathetic understanding of children’s views and needs.

Case Study 1. Ilminster Ave Early Excellence Children’s centre

Case Study 2. Brentry and Henbury Early Excellence Children’s Centre

Case Study 3. Hartcliffe Children’s Centre

OFSTED recently rated this children centre outstanding – the outdoor environment was designed by OPAL and built by Green Play Project