written by Creative STAR

Many years ago years ago, I started blogging about accessories that make a difference to facilitating learning and play outdoors. I was participating in a twilight workshop and one of the participants made a sage comment along the lines of being perfectly comfortable knowing her literacy and maths outside but lacking the practical know-how about outdoor skills.

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Part of that know-how is having a small, select pack of Very Useful Things. To be honest I’ve been totally obsessed with little items that make a big difference over the years I was training and supporting schools and ELC settings. 

For example in my bag of ropes I have a “swing stick”. It is strong enough to sit upon when making a swing and saves me a lot of time looking a suitable stick in situ in a stick-poor school ground or even in a wood. 

So I thought it might be quite timely to update this post about those other bits and pieces which make my job with children, and staff, a little easier. These are summarised within the Ultimate Loose Parts Play download which gives additional thoughts around the use and care of such items. Remember to evaluate carefully the suitability of each resource for use with the group of children with whom you work. 

What about the environmental sustainability of these items? 

  • All the items can be re-used again and again. Many are now over a decade old. Ask for donations of pre-loved kit. 
  • Go for garden twine which is made of jute, a vegetable fibre. It is biodegradable and little bits and pieces can be snipped up and added to the compost bin, for example, after using to attach plants to canes. Twine can also be finger knitted into thicker or stronger thread if needed. 
  • Collect bits and pieces. Often nylon braiding and ribbon is cut to short lengths – keep these in a bag and children can then use them without necessarily needing to cut them further to size. 
  • Have systems in place that ensure children remember and return the little bits to their bags or baskets after use. 
  • Look out for environmentally-friendly alternatives. Year-on-year, more products are being made from recycled materials and natural products. 
  • Think about the storage of these bits and use old bags. If you are really with-it, you can make your own willow baskets… 

Here’s my little list of useful items (not an exhaustive one either)

1. Velcro

When I talk about Velcro, I’m referring to a specific sort often called Self Gripping Ties. Most Velcro is pretty rubbish outside.  The stuff you need comes in a roll and can be cut to size. I always have bags of the stuff ready for den making. I use it for attaching objects to fences such as guttering. It doesn’t mind getting wet and is easy to use in cold weather when little hands have difficulty tying washing line or string. It is also very strong and makes a wonderful sound when being pulled apart. If your hands are cold or you have children wanting to fasten their own objects to other things then it’s the bees-knees.

2. Karabiners

I use these as informal locks on gates, to clip bags onto fences and as part of any work with ropes and pulleys. My preferred sort are real climbing karabiners. They are bigger and strong than most wimpy fake versions. Ask a climber for some old stock if they won’t be used for load-bearing e.g. carrying people. 

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3. Karabiner Bungee Cords

These are a speciality of Poundland. They are useful washing lines and work well to wrap up bundles of sticks. They can be a helpful accessory for den building too. Normally I’m a little wary of bungee cords with the hooks as the ping back can be surprisingly intense. This type of bungee seems to be more moderate, but care with their use is still needed. 

4. Pegs

Having a variety of pegs for different purposes helps keep material in place, attach items on to washing lines and are just useful all round. My favourite use of giant pegs are fun for all sorts of jobs, such as being a clamp for woodwork activities or to keep tarp in place. Have a look at this specific blog post on the abundance and diversity of pegs and why this matters. You may also enjoy this wonderful post about clamps from Jeff Johnsonwho is clearly equally obsessed with them. 

5. Duct Tape

This silver sticky stuff is amazing. I first encountered it in my student days when the canoe club used it to temporarily repair canoes. It remains my first line of defence for rips, splits and other repair jobs. It is also my prevention strategy. Some resources are better reinforced with duct tape prior to being played with such as these portable willow lattice dividers from Cosy which lasted for years, thanks to the duct tape. There is now a huge range of colours so the duct tape blends into the decor. I particularly love the transparent types. As a general rule, I tend to use this rather than give it to very young children to use.

6. Masking Tape

This can be an activity in its own right or just useful for lots of little jobs as it’s possible to write on it. Use the sticky side to make nature bracelets or collect seed when walking through long grass – just wrap a piece onto your foot – sticky side out. I love it when little children suddenly realise what they can do with masking tape…

7. S Hooks

Definitely a must buy as they can hang on willow, fences, and other places and are beautifully strong. The big hooks are especially magnificent and can be found on Cosy. Note the straight middle which means it hangs nicely and the metal bobbles on the ends that provide a good finish.

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8. Washing line

The yellow and blue stuff is soft, flexible and useful for all sorts of jobs such as attaching objects to fences, creating dens, using as a pulley rope. I find it easier to undo than string. Over time it does go brittle and fades a wee bit. However, it’s still nice and visible.

9. Ball bungees

I have begun to use ball bungees a lot more frequently in recent years. Firstly, they help protect the eyelets on cheap tarps which get shredded and ruined in a moderate breeze. The shock cord provides a bit of give. Also they are quick to insert and use. The longer ones are good for being in woodlands (Thank you Steve Moizer for telling me this).

Next as the photo below shows, ball bungees are an essential item for a water wall tarp. Really useful in settings where you have to set up from scratch on a daily basis.


10. Elasticated shock cord ties

These are very clever bits of shock cord that thread through eyelets on tarp and lock back on themselves, toggle-like. I was given some mini ones from a friend in the Czech Republic as a birthday present. Then I discovered these beefier versions. They are useful for situations where you need a quick fastener, such as tying tarp to fences (yes, I’ve been doing a lot of urban outdoor work recently)


11. Shock cord

Generally I’m using more and more shock cord as an approach to fastening and holding up items. Below is a Stretchy Sammy the one-metre rope snake. I’m still trying to work out if the snake can be classified as one-metre on account of its overall stretchiness…


12. High vis guy ropes, bright paracord and nylon braiding

Generally long line that is more visible and brightly coloured appeals to me. I like to know and be able to see any cord – it helps stop me and others tripping or running into it.

13. Soft wire

I’ve been a fan of soft wire for many years. It feels good and can be re-used lots. Many children enjoy the pliability and sensation of wrapping and bending wire. This blog post explains more…


14. Awesome translucent dry bags

With all these bits, storage becomes essential. For the past 4 years I’ve found dry bags are good value and enable you and children to see what is stored inside. They have been much tougher than I anticipated. I have them attached to a rope line which I can quickly put up or take down at any height.

15. Er… where’s the cable ties?

I’m less of a fan than many because I find them fiddly, even the re-usable ones. Also I notice that when cable ties have been used to attach things to walls, they become static and limit the play.

What little things do you find essential for your outdoor work? I bet you’ve a favourite or two…

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