Playing wild



Memories of Newnham Croft Primary School, the Wild Garden. Created summer 2014.


Watching me, watching you. This little boy made a camera out of blocks and followed me round the garden as I worked, taking ‘photos’ of what I was doing with the other children for his space ship records. He was an alien visiting earth and gathering data.



Here the teepee corner is both meeting place and building area. This little girl spent a long time carefully building up a stable network of branches so that she could climb up to the top of her tower. In the meeting place this group of boys were discussing rules for pirates on the ship they’d made out of the logs and stumps further up the garden. Below you can see them running through the garden, over obstacles to reach their ship.






All the children helped plant the garden. They sorted plants into groups according to the conditions they like to grow in – sunny, warm, open areas in the ‘riverside’ part of the garden and shady, enclosed areas in the ‘woodland’ part of the garden. I taught them how to transfer a plant that has been grown in a container into the ground and by the end of the week, they were all telling me how to do it!


Good news travels fast

Our local paper, The Cambridge Evening News, have picked up on the play garden I designed and made at Newnham Croft Primary School, Chedworth Street. “These pupils are all smiles now they can lay claim to having one of the best outdoor play areas in Cambridge.”

My design solution to a previously unplayable space at the back of the buildings was to take away all the degraded, slimy, artificial surfaces and approach the space under mature sycamore trees as a wild, woodland garden. In our early monitoring the space was used by 15% of the children 25% of the time available for free-flow play, where children play in the outdoor space at will. Now it is used by 85% of children 85% of the time plus compulsory playtimes and outdoor lessons.

Sharon Williams, the headteacher who has championed this brave change from tarmac to wild garden says, “They’re developing their speech and language, problem solving and leadership skills. They have to work things out together. It’s all very open-ended so they can create whatever they want, rather than being restricted to fixed use equipment.”

For my part, it is a delight to see children teaming up, sharing resources and creating imaginative worlds because the space encourages exploration and fun. The staff have fully embraced wild play and would like to see Fresh Air Learning extend into the Juniors too.


Cambridge Evening News, Feb 10, 2015

Cambridge Evening News, Feb 10, 2015






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