Irthlingborough Nursery & Infant School, Northampton

Irthlingborough Nursery and Infant School – Northampton

Irthlingborough Nursery and Infant School spent 18 months searching for a partner to develop their Early Years outdoors play area. The search was over following a successful partnership with Playgarden who developed the flexible, open-ended space they were looking for.

Project Brief

To change a well-used, equipment dominated outdoor area of the nursery into a natural learning environment that supports the characteristics of learning.


• Well-used space
• Lots of play equipment dominating the space
• Limited use of natural materials
• Some staff nervous about the move towards a more risky, adventurous play environment


The early years lead knew the type of play environment that she wanted to create but struggled to find a company that could do what she was looking for. The school was nervous about paying the £1,500 consultation and design fee and initially had designs from companies that offered a free design. It was clear that although these other companies offered the free design, they could not deliver what the school was looking for. After an 18 month search the school re-contacted Playgarden and were reassured that working with a Landscape Architect, well trained in understanding play within the early years environment, was worth paying for to ensure they got exactly what they were looking for, rather than compromise with a free design and not get what they wanted.

Physical opportunities within the space were a high priority. Walking up and down the mounding, rolling down the mound, sliding down the slide and pulling up onto the top of the mound encourages the development of good control and co-ordination of movements. Horizontal Bars promote the development of physical strength as children learn to negotiate the bars and come to understand how their body works.

Digging and exploring sand with their whole body is very important to children which is why we created a huge sand play area. Experimenting with the properties of sand is important for children’s well-being and development which is precisely what this open sand pit allows, providing opportunities to add materials such as water, pebbles and planting to see how these interact. Boulders and pebbles surrounding the sand pit offer opportunities for seating and enclosing the sand play environment.

Space for children to imagine and travel to other worlds and new environments is essential. Seating and cosy spaces have been created in the space so that the children can take time out to reflect and think about their place in the world, or simply just a little ‘quiet’ time away from the hustle and bustle of other children.

The space features a large mud digging area with potting bench where potions and pies can be created. Planting close by provides opportunities for children to add these materials to their concoctions.
Mixing soil, water and a range of other natural materials has a foundational role in early childhood which has deep importance and endless possibilities for well-being, development and learning. Mud kitchens work well all year round, and need to be seen as a core element of continuous provision.

As children travel through the space they will discover multi-sensory planting areas and trees. Growing is a remarkably powerful theme for young children, with a strong emotional element, masses of learning in every aspect of the curriculum, lots of moving and doing and the potential of laying down the interests and healthy habits for life.

The incorporation of a transition area was key to making the space work for the children and staff. The space is the connection between the indoors and out. The addition of a sink unit for children to clean their hands and some accessible storage for clothes and wellington boots enabled the children to free-flow between outside and in.


• Physical development through creative use of landform which allows risky and challenging play opportunities

• Sand play allows for creative and imaginative play opportunities

• Planting elements provide stimulation and help children gain understanding of the world they live in

• Story telling and cosy area creates opportunities for social interactions and imaginative play

• Mud play is a core element of continuous provision, allowing experimentation

Equipment: Embankment Slide, Horizontal Bar, Story Telling Chair and Seating Circle, Timber Sleeper Bridge, Shade Sail, Construction Shelter.

Landscaping: Large Sand Pit, Pebble Playscape, Mounding, Tactile Path, Mud Digging Area, Trees and Planting, Turf and Artificial Grass.

What the client said…