Play­grounds

Play­grounds and out­door ar­eas pro­vide a struc­tured space for so­cial­i­sa­tion, imag­i­na­tive play and phys­i­cal ac­tiv­ity. So how can schools de­sign the best ed­u­ca­tional land­scape for their stu­dents?

The Australian Education Reporter - - CONTENTS - EMMA DAVIES

PLAY can teach chil­dren many skills in­clud­ing prob­lem solv­ing, cre­ativ­ity, ini­tia­tive and so­cial skills but schools need to move beyond the mod­u­lar, fixed idea of play­grounds and cre­ate di­verse, flex­i­ble and in­ter­ac­tive learn­ing en­vi­ron­ments.

The Aus­tralian In­sti­tute of Land­scape Ar­chi­tec­ture (AILA) is the peak pro­fes­sional body, with many mem­bers in­volved in the de­sign of playspaces and school land­scape de­vel­op­ment.

AILA na­tional pres­i­dent and Univer­sity of NSW As­so­ciate Pro­fes­sor Linda Cork­ery said that land­scape ar­chi­tects are not just in­volved in school grounds plan­ning and de­sign­ing play and learn­ing ar­eas.

“Like any land­scape project, they must also con­sider how the site needs to func­tion, in re­la­tion to move­ment and cir­cu­la­tion; ac­com­mo­dat­ing the daily school ac­tiv­i­ties, like morn­ing as­sem­blies; pro­vid­ing ad­e­quate shade and cover from wet weather; bal­anc­ing the sorts of ground sur­face ma­te­ri­als that are used through­out the site to en­sure op­ti­mum use,” Pro­fes­sor Cork­ery said.

Paving ma­te­ri­als that ab­sorb and hold heat – such as as­phalt, con­crete, pavers and rub­ber soft­ball – are a po­ten­tial prob­lem, par­tic­u­larly in ar­eas with sun ex­po­sure, few trees, and sparse lit­tle shade.

“In Aus­tralia, we should be mak­ing much more use of out­door ar­eas for play and learn­ing, and in­vest­ing more re­sources into cre­at­ing won­der­ful school grounds for all chil­dren,” Pro­fes­sor Cork­ery said.

“These out­door spa­ces are crit­i­cal for young chil­dren’s de­vel­op­ment – phys­i­cal, men­tal, so­cial – and can con­tinue to sup­port good health, ed­u­ca­tion, phys­i­cal ac­tiv­ity and places to so­cialise through to late teens.”

Pro­fes­sor Cork­ery said that the fo­cus is not just about play. Well de­signed and man­aged school grounds can also en­hance learn­ing op­por­tu­ni­ties, and should be given as much at­ten­tion as class­room in­te­ri­ors in the over­all de­vel­op­ment of the school.

“In Aus­tralia, we should be mak­ing much more use of out­door ar­eas for play and learn­ing, and in­vest­ing more re­sources into cre­at­ing won­der­ful school grounds for all chil­dren.”

“Schools are public build­ings that must ac­com­mo­date stu­dents, staff and vis­i­tors who have a dis­abil­ity or are move­ment im­paired.

Site de­sign should in­te­grate ap­pro­pri­ate ramp ac­cess to build­ing en­tries and ac­cess around and through­out the grounds,” she said.

With in­ner city schools need­ing to ac­com­mo­date ever grow­ing stu­dent pop­u­la­tions, ex­tra fa­cil­i­ties like class­rooms and halls are added at the ex­pense of the school land­scape.

“Many of these play­grounds end up be­ing hard sur­faced be­cause they have to hold up un­der the con­cen­trated daily traf­fic of hun­dreds of stu­dents,” Pro­fes­sor Cork­ery said.

“It is rare that many trees, grass or gar­den ar­eas can sur­vive in these con­di­tions.”

When land­scape de­sign­ers are de­vel­op­ing playspaces to en­gage stu­dent’s cu­rios­ity and imag­i­na­tion, in­volv­ing nat­u­ral el­e­ments is im­por­tant.

“Fun­da­men­tally, there is wide ac­cep­tance and un­der­stand­ing among ed­u­ca­tors and par­ents that the out­door en­vi­ron­ments of schools are equally mean­ing­ful places for chil­dren’s learn­ing as the in­door spa­ces,” Pro­fes­sor Cork­ery said.

“In­ter­ac­tions with na­ture and cre­at­ing learn­ing en­vi­ron­ments in school grounds can in­clude school gar­dens,” she said.

“Re­think­ing the way the site func­tions

al­lows for the pos­si­bil­ity of in­creas­ing bio­di­ver­sity, in­tro­duc­ing food-pro­duc­ing trees and plants, de­vel­op­ing ‘green in­fra­struc­ture’, such as rain gar­dens and in some sit­u­a­tions, wet­lands that can be­come out­door sci­ence labs.”

Kidsafe South Aus­tralia ex­ec­u­tive of­fi­cer Holly Fitzgerald said that schools should do their re­search when plan­ning to in­stall or up­grade an ex­ist­ing play area and that chil­dren should be in­volved in the de­sign process.

“This en­ables schools to make in­formed de­ci­sions about the play­ground with the ul­ti­mate out­come be­ing a safe, en­gag­ing and chal­leng­ing play­ground cre­ated for the in­tended users,” she said.

“Well-de­signed play­grounds will be all in­clu­sive. There are many de­sign­ers who spe­cialise in de­sign­ing for all abil­i­ties. Con­sult­ing with de­sign­ers, par­ents, chil­dren and health care pro­fes­sion­als is essen­tial.”

Ms Fitzgerald rec­om­mends that schools visit other playspaces and take note of the type of equip­ment and sur­faces used and then en­gage a land­scape ar­chi­tects or de­signer who has knowl­edge of Aus­tralian Stan­dards for play­grounds and ex­pe­ri­ence in de­sign­ing for ed­u­ca­tion.

“Many de­sign­ers will of­fer a con­sul­ta­tion ser­vice which will in­clude stu­dents, par­ents, teach­ers, and other com­mu­nity mem­bers in the de­sign process,” she said.

Ms Fitzgerald sug­gests that in­volv­ing stu­dents in the process and let­ting them cre­ate a wish list of de­sired play ac­tiv­i­ties will as­sist schools in se­lect­ing a sup­plier who best fits their needs.

“By invit­ing a child to use their ini­tia­tive and ex­plore pos­si­bil­i­ties, we pro­vide them with the best op­por­tu­ni­ties to learn.”

“By invit­ing a child to use their ini­tia­tive and ex­plore pos­si­bil­i­ties, we pro­vide them with the best op­por­tu­ni­ties to learn.”

Sky­walker Play­ground, Kel­lyville Public School NSW.

Sky­walker Play­ground, Kel­lyville Public School NSW. All Im­ages: Kidssafe SA.

Our Lady of the Rosary, Kens­ing­ton, NSW.

Mater Dei, Cam­den NSW.

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