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Breaking new ground to play

What a difference a garden makes, not only to Ballingry pupils but for the local authority as well

IT'S ALL GO. A posse of four-year-olds roar past on bicycles and scooters, others rampage around playing tig, and there's a game of hide and seek going on in the bushes. In a more tranquil corner of the garden, a boy is lovingly raking and digging an empty patch of soil.

If you are under five and brimming with energy, a garden is the perfect place to let off steam. But for the nursery at St Kenneth's Primary in Ballingry, the great outdoors hasn't always been so easy to access. They got their garden in March thanks to the external spaces team at Fife Council, which recently won it the "making a difference award", at the Scottish Education Awards.

The team came into being after a consultation with more than 550 children found playgrounds and toilets were frequently highlighted as problem areas. It was decided to focus, for the time being, on playgrounds. And based on the children's comments, the team put together a design brief detailing what all playgrounds should have: a good surface area, markings and a quiet area with some planting and seating; and some more adventurous suggestions: bubble fountains, dens, mazes and trim trails to encourage children to jump, roll and slide.

"What we were putting forward was what you need to deliver the curriculum and keep children active and at one with nature," said Senga Hogg, a former headteacher, and member of the External Spaces Team, which then set about assessing Fife's playgrounds. "They ranged from the ridiculous to the sublime," she said.

More than 150 nursery and primary school playgrounds were visited and Pounds 600,000 raised to spend improving the worst offenders. By October, almost 80 schools will have benfited.

At St Kenneth's Primary, pound;25,000 has been spent on resurfacing, painting on playground markings and providing the nursery with a safe, fenced off garden on their doorstep. Carol Woolley, an early years officer at the nursery, said: "It's made the most amazing change to the nursery. Now we can get outdoors every day."

There is a sandpit, newly-planted flowers and bushes, and a wooden hut. Morgan, 4, and her friend Kelsie, 5, like to use the hut, they say, for private chats and to play shops.

Several miles away at Aberhill Primary in Methil, an island of green has been created in a sea of tarmac. With the pound;10,000 they received from the external spaces team, members of the pupil council helped revamp a disused patch of garden the school's only grass area putting in a rainbow seat which seats 30 pupils, a solar fountain, and a den covered in turf.

Roz Mackie, the teacher who led the project, said: "Before, the area wasn't used because there wasn't anything there not even a seating area or plants. Now we use the space as an outdoor classroom as well as a play area."

Danni Murry, in P5, who was involved in the planning, said: "I was pretty amazed when I first saw the garden. Now it's basically the best bit in the whole playground."

When the external spaces team's money runs out in October, they plan to take on an advisory role, giving tips about potential sources of funding for play- ground improvements and the best local suppliers.

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