What are your memories of the playground from school?
I remember dust bowls and knee-grazing asphalt (with the scars to prove it). I can speak from experience, as I went to three primary schools and two high schools. One school playground stood out above the others, Gymea North Public School in southern Sydney.
I was only there a couple of years and the school was relatively new. It’s known as ‘the school among the trees’. The vast playground of tall gum trees extended widely and broadly to the boundary along a main road. We didn’t have pristine grass and paving, back then, it was quite rugged and rustic.
Every recess and lunch break we would race to ‘our tree’. Each group of friends would create a ‘cubbie’ – bark, leaves, sticks, whatever we could find. It was very hard to drag us back when the bell rang, as we undertook our construction projects. I can only imagine how dirty we must have been when we returned to class. I’m sure this play would have never passed the risk assessment today. I’m regularly in the area (my elderly father lives nearby) and when I drive past, I recall happy memories.
My high school experience created less positive memories. Recently watching a UK/Aus ‘dramedy’ Frayed, I was sure that I saw the playground at the high school from my youth – a desolate space, quadrangles dissected by covered walkways. Shade? This was not a consideration. As I recall, the grassed spaces were only domain of those who played football, you ventured there at your own risk (or during those semi-regular bomb scares of the 70s).
Outdoor spaces – More than just class breaks and sport
Creating fun, imaginative, calming and natural outside spaces is important in the school design revolution, becoming more than the place where students are tipped-out between classes.
As I travel to schools in Australia, New Zealand and across the world, the outdoor areas and ‘spaces between’ are considered part of the overall learning environment, providing for social connection, wellbeing, supporting both active and passive engagement, with shade, greenery, biophyllic design and the aesthetic seen as essential.
In her book, Contextual Wellbeing, Dr Helen Street argues that ‘nature deficit disorder’ has an impact on wellbeing,
Spending time in nature, at any level of interaction, enhances our wellbeing, and great benefits occur when students have the opportunity to interact with the natural world around them as part of their educational journey.Street, H. (2018) Contextual Wellbeing: Creating positive schools from the inside out (p.127)
And not just early learning and primary schools, “just being outdoors benefits all students” (p.127). This means high school as well.
What have I seen?