Tanglewood Nursery School, Chelmsford

Tanglewood Nursery School – Chelmsford

Tanglewood Nursery School in Chelmsford has a long tradition of child-centred education where learning through play forms the basis for their children to become active and independent learners. The potential for the outdoor space dovetails into this perfectly, and the management at Tanglewood were keen to develop the area, to make it truly outstanding.

Project Brief

The outdoor space was significant at Tanglewood Nursery School but unfortunately it was predominately covered with tarmac, with limited natural features or opportunities for creative play. However, the staff had the vision to recognise that the space could be something vastly different and with some changes would offer a great learning and play environment. They had a real appreciation of what the space could be (they already used it to rear chickens with the children), and searched online to find a supplier they felt confident could deliver an inspirational design.


Tanglewood stated they wanted the space to be more of a garden, and although they initially felt they wanted to move the existing sand area to a less prominent part of the site, consultation made them recognise that this could become the hub of the space. As a consequence the sand area remained at the forefront of the garden, and was even extended and enhanced with the addition of a Building Site.

This was coupled with water play, providing increased play value. Although the different spaces were created the children could still experiment with both elements. Within the waterplay area a natural ‘pebble play stream’ was a key feature, with a mushroom pump at its head. The play stream is a shallow concave channel with a lightly mounded play surface. The wooden channels allow children to dam water using the wedge seal before releasing it. A group of landscaped mounds enclose the water stream and allow the children to sit comfortable while playing. This water play offers children access to water and experiment with the properties of it. The boulders and stones are naturally set into the pebble surface allowing for play with modular channels in different configurations.

Mounds throughout the space provide physical challenge and sensory planting offers a rich and lush landscape, which will change throughout the seasons.


  • The sand area provides exciting loose play and transportation opportunities, and as it is such a large area can accommodate many children at any one time.
  • The access to the play area is free-flowing, and inspiring encouraging children to go outside and interact with the space.
  • The pebble play scape and the water features enable children to become scientists, diverting the course of the water, creating dams and controlling the flow.
  • Physical development is promoted through the use of mounds, which provide challenge and interest for children from babies through to pre-schoolers.
  • The open ended design empowers children to play imaginatively, and freely select resources to enhance play.
  • Extensive sensory planting has created a varied landscape, one that changes through the seasons and will attract a variety of wildlife.


Equipment: Building Site, Mushroom Pump, Water Channels

Surfacing: Sand, Pebble Playstream, Boulders, Mounding, Sensory Planting

What the client said…