The Playground by Shanee Puri
As nature takes her own time and grows organically and intuitively, so did our garden, playground, recreation, and relaxation areas. Creating a green, nature-inspired play and community space in the middle of a school in the desert – on reclaimed land no less – presented an initial challenge and posed many questions.
- What could be intentionally designed into the space to encourage our students to develop their natural physical literacy, challenge their cognitive and motor ability as a natural landscape might, and encourage a more intuitive way of play, imagination, and exploration?
- What experiences did we want to occur in the space? What wow moments, what grounding moments, what moments for reflection and growth? What stories would grow from this space to be retold and what memories made?
- How could we bring connection with nature and a natural experience into the heart of our school without it feeling contrived?
“Play is a highly beneficial and deeply natural way in which kids learn. Play has deeply important roles in the development of intellectual skills, in social skills, in developing empathy, in stretching our imaginations and exploring our creativity.”
– Sir Ken Robinson
Physical literacy is about building the skills, knowledge and behaviours that give us confidence and motivation to lead healthy, active lives.
This holistic approach can be broken down into four interconnected areas:
- Physical – these are the skills and fitness we aquire over time and how these are applied through movement. This includes developing movement of our body, movement of objects, coordination and stability, flexibility, strength and endurance, agility and speed.
- Psychological – these are the attitudes and emotions we have towards movement and physical activity and how these emotions can impact our confidence and motivation towards being physically active and healthy. This includes understanding and developing confidence, engagement, and enjoyment of physical activity, and self-awareness and self-perception
- Social – these are the interactions that we have with others in relation to movement. This includes building and developing respectful relationships with others; collaborating and cooperating with others; and understanding how our own behavior and actions impact others
- Cognitive – this is the understanding of how, why, and when we move. This includes understanding risk and being aware of ourselves and others in different contexts; understanding explicit and implicit rules and principles; tactics and strategy; drawing on previous experiences and observations to make accurate and safe decisions
Our playground equipment: Our playground equipment is hand-crafted from sustainable wood, each piece unique. Each piece was also specifically chosen to entice children to want to move naturally: to climb, swing, jump, crawl, balance, and lace their bodies through and under and over. This in turn will develop their physical literacy: their upper, core, and lower body strength; their balance and coordination; their gross motor skills and their coordination. Alongside this their social, psychological, and cognitive skills will develop as they play, interact, and collaborate with others.
Our recreation areas – football area, running track, and games court – will continue to encourage our students and community to be active beyond the end of the school day. Using our campus for the benefit of of our families, our neighbors, and our community beyond Dilmunia will further strengthen our social bonds with each other.
Linking to physical literacy and the social element, our play and recreation areas were intentionally designed to provide many different opportunities for all of our students, team, and community to be socially engaged.
When considering what these opportunities would be we first considered our intent – how we wanted the experience to feel and what we wanted it to encourage and develop.
- feel like: what emotions would the space elicit? Feelings of belonging, joy, and connection with each other and nature
- encourage: what invitations to explore, experiment, and engage with others would be woven through the space?
- develop: what would the space foster and develop? Courage, curiosity, and community
This intent behind the play and recreation spaces guided the development of them, from the choice of equipment and areas to the zones, landscaping, colours, and choice of activities. From quiet and contemplative to active and social, there are spaces and opportunities for all.
Connection with nature
“Every mouthful of food, every breath of air is owed to nature. We depend on it. There isn’t a child that doesn’t get filled with wonder by nature, even from a very early age. If you lose passion for nature you’ve lost one of the more precious things human beings have. It is the source of everything we find beautiful.”
– Sir David Attenborogh
There have been many significant project milestones over the last few weeks and this is another one: nature is slowly but surely coming into our new campus. Seeing a butterfly dancing through the leaves of a newly planted tree, hearing the twittering of birds nesting at sunset, and seeing feathery friends resting by our little river signifies that our space is being lived in and enjoyed already.
Encouraging connection with nature and positive relationships towards the environment, wildlife, and habitats was central to our playground and recreation spaces design. This means that we had to design a space where not only humans but animals would be welcomed, too.
Our bird houses, bug hotels, and watering holes are being fitted over the coming weeks to encourage even more wildlife into our school.
To complement our approach to living a more sustainable and environmentally aware life we also considered our landscaping, plants, and trees. Our trees are all flowering (good for the bees) fruit (good for the body) or medicinal (good for health). Our river provides an opportunity for contemplation. Our gardening areas invite our students to plant and grow their own fruits, vegetables, and herbs.
We look forward to sharing our playground and recreation areas with our community: to supporting the promotion of a healthy, active lifestyle; to providing physical and social opportunities for our community to enjoy; and to creating a little oasis in the middle of Dilmunia for our trees to grow and for our feathery and winged friends to land.