Nightingale Infant School, Norwich

Nightingale Infant School, Norwich – Nursery Outdoor Space

A move away from plastic play and fixed play elements towards sand, water and loose natural materials to create a rich, open-ended outdoor play environment.

Project Brief

A small tired space, dominated with plastic play equipment and a large climbing frame.


• Small space, many children accessing this space
• Flat, tarmac space
• Fenced area within the KS1 playground
• To introduce more natural elements into this barren landscape


The Nursery staff at Nightingale Infant School wanted to introduce a more playful landscape into their outdoor space, one that would allow for a multitude of play and learning opportunities.

The development of large scale active play & learning opportunities were really important. Places to do large scale digging and filling for whole body work was created with the sand pit and the mud digging pit. Climbing up and down with ladders and stepping logs develops balance and coordination.

A large sand play area with a sand pulley system is ideal for exploring the properties of sand. Transportation of sand and loose materials around the space introduces weight and measuring into the play. Big digging opportunities are offered and exploring sand with their whole body is very important to children which is why we created a huge sand play area.

Located next to the large sand play area, the mud kitchen provides ample opportunity for mud mixing! Located at floor level it means the children can really dig deep and get stuck into this muddy concoction for real, developmental play. Having the sand and mud located next to each other provides contrasts in colour, texture and mixing behaviour. The addition of a potting table with wooden walled backdrop provides space for adding loose kitchen utensils and pots & pans.

Small pockets of planting are important so that children can experience the joy and wonder of watching them grow and change with the seasons.


Places to hide and build dens are important in the space. A raised platform with artificial grass provides a look out space, alongside separate area for cosy play, provide the children with the feeling of being hidden from view. However, the open-end nature of their design means they can be used, however the children determine.

Open storage for loose parts and materials was important. The bespoke construction of this mean that key requirements such as accessibility, alongside self-selection were easily met.


• Physical movement and development through large scale opportunities presented in the outdoor environment.

• Big scale sand pit supports experimentation through play.

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

• Mud play is a core element of continuous, inclusive provision. The versatility of mud means there’s something for everyone.

Equipment: Mud kitchen, potting bench, accessible storage, shade sail

Landscaping: Pebble play stream, planting beds, sand pit, mud pit, artificial grass

What the client said…