In March 2021, our annual spring professional development day centered on how we design spaces for children. While we intended to focus on our indoor spaces, there was a lot of conversation about our outdoor spaces. The rich conversation about our playgrounds and outdoor spaces led us to focus on playgrounds specifically for our next staff meeting.
As a staff, we talked a lot about the climber being fairly dated as well as creating more opportunities for risk-taking. This discussion, along with previous staff feedback is what led to this project.
“Back playground needs a major refresh and more challenge/areas for risky play.“ (staff survey)
“Orange climber is dated and not challenging for our age children.” (staff survey)
After collecting feedback from staff, it became clear that our biggest priorities for any playground remodel would be opportunities for risk-taking and utilizing natural materials. With the Mara Mintzer TED Talk in mind, and its parallels with our Reggio Emilia-inspired approach, we interviewed the Gold Room about their ideas for the playground. After we found a natural playscape company to work with, GRG Playscapes, we showed the children some examples of they had made in the past.
- What do you like about what you see in this photo?
- Child: I like the nifty pile of sticks
- Child: The wood thing.
- Child: I like the climbing wall.
- Child: I like the obstacle course.
- Child: I like the tree house part.
- What would you like to have in our new playground?
Child: Lower monkey bars so we don’t have to fall.
- Child: And no wood chips. I have gotten hurt when I fell on them before.
- Child: We could use pillows…but they would get dirty.
- Child: A longer slide.
- Child: We could do a high slide and a low slide because some kids are afraid of heights.
- Child: A straighter slide.
- Child: A house with walls and a door.
The Gold Room had the children draw their dream playgrounds. The teachers gave the children the reference photos of the current playground, the example playground, and landscape drawings of our yard. Children were invited to draw what they would like to see.
“One tiny slide for mice, one medium slide for little kids and one big slide for big kids.”
“It’s a treehouse. You have to climb up the branches to get to the door and there’s toys. It’s for rain. [those are] Steps for kids who don’t know how to climb the branches.”
We shared the Gold Room’s work with the design team at GRG Playscapes, and it changed the shape of the project quite a bit. Originally, we had not intended on having a slide at all, but of course that was very important to children so we added a slide.
The feedback from the staff survey also shaped the project, particularly in that so many teachers mentioned storage.
Initial Design – with input from staff and children
- Keep monkey bars!
- Area for climbing / risk taking
- Loose parts, natural materials
- Storage crates (not pictured)
Revised Design – after staff feedback on initial design
- Make the platform taller!
- Add windows to promote dramatic play
- Make entrance to climber more accessible!
- Add bench for adult seating
- Even more loose parts! (not pictured)
Finally, we were ready for construction to begin. We hung the proposal photos of the future playground on the fence so children could keep track of the progress.
We know that children process their world through play, as when young children act out taking care of baby dolls, just like their caregivers take care of them. Play is a way for children to understand how the world fits together, even how a playground is built!
The Snowflake Room had a front row seat to the construction! They been watched through their windows and drew their own playgrounds.
The Purples noticed the construction looked like obstacle course, with many levels to climb up and to jump from one to the next one. This lead to an interest in obstacle courses. The block area became a construction site where obstacle courses were built for cars to drive on and jump off ramps.
Finally, it was time for the playground to open! The many ways “up” the treehouse allows for many skill sets to be challenged, from our littlest who use the stairs to the older rooms who scale the tree trunk climbers.
The window cutouts beneath the “treehouse” were a staff idea! Many children have been busily taking orders from the windows, playing house, or otherwise incorporating the windows into their dramatic play.
Thank you to GRG Playscapes for the playground construction!