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Why Playgrounds and Open Space Are Important For Schools

When you think of a playground, you probably think of a slide, monkey bars, sand pit, swings, and maybe a seesaw. Often playgrounds are the first point of experiencing social interaction for children and adults with young children. Outdoor space is where children and adults first learn to interact socially in an open space. Playgrounds and open spaces set the foundation for belonging, accessibility and social inclusion for all students, adults and school community members.

Playgrounds provide a variety of benefits. They help kids develop physical strength, coordination, and balance; improve their mental health and child's brain; foster social skills, communication, and creativity: providing a safe place for them to explore and learn. School playgrounds also provide the opportunity for children to practice skills that will ultimately play a role in adult competencies such as the ability to collaborate with others, develop decision making skills, and successfully take on leadership roles, persevere in the face of distractions, and generate creative ideas.

Research shows that playgrounds provide students with much-needed movement, fostering increased creativity and cognitive development. School playgrounds and open spaces can serve more than just recreational areas; they can also function as outdoor learning classrooms, providing opportunities for educational experiences that extend beyond academic achievements. Having a space to release pent up energy, personal time outside to relax or simply, time to reconnect and communicate with friends.

When founding schools plan to build an outdoor playground and educational space, it is crucial to think about how to create a welcoming and inviting transition from small compacted classrooms to wide open areas. This involves incorporating features such as color, surfaces conducive to jumping and landing, swings, climbing structures, shaded areas, crawl spaces, running tracks, and sensory zones with elements like water, sand, and soft music. These considerations are vital for ensuring that the outdoor environment promotes active engagement and enriching learning experiences for students.

Founding schools should keep in mind the positive attributes playgrounds and outdoor spaces provide:

  • Improved physical and mental well-being: Physical activities and exposure to nature promote both physical and mental health.

  • Enhanced social skills: Bonding with peers outside the classroom improves emotional intelligence and social health.

  • Better performance: Outdoor learning builds mental strength and reflects in improved grades and performance.

  • Critical thinkers: Children become confident problem-solvers, applying their learning to real-world challenges.

  • Deeper understanding: Real-life experiences help children grasp abstract concepts and retain knowledge.

In my role collaborating with founding schools, I have diligently ensured that outdoor spaces provide ample opportunities for hands-on exploration and experiential learning. By doing so, I aim to contribute to the holistic educational growth of students, fostering a well-rounded educational experience that extends beyond the confines of the classroom. Outdoor learning nurtures creativity as children explore and experiment freely. In my recent endeavors, I have overseen the development of gardens and introduced animal husbandry programs in schools, providing students with opportunities to explore and understand the intricate cycles of life sciences.

Addressing social-emotional health is essential for nurturing students' well-being and fostering positive relationships within the school community. Bonding with peers outside the classroom not only fosters a sense of camaraderie but also promotes emotional intelligence and social health in several ways. Through shared experiences in playgrounds and open spaces, students learn valuable social skills such as cooperation, conflict resolution, and empathy. Engaging in collaborative play activities encourages teamwork and communication, essential aspects of developing healthy relationships. Furthermore, interacting with peers in a relaxed outdoor setting can reduce stress and anxiety, fostering a positive emotional state conducive to building strong social connections. Overall, the opportunity to bond with peers outside the classroom enriches students' emotional intelligence and contributes to their overall social well-being.

Good Design Matters

Whether realized or not, design affects our perceptions and experiences. Our environment influences how we engage, learn and develop. In my role as a leader, I've discovered that the most crucial aspect to consider when designing and constructing outdoor spaces is the aesthetic layout and ensuring that the playground seamlessly integrates with its natural surroundings. School playgrounds and outdoor spaces should serve as a showpiece for a school or facility.

Employing a team of designers capable of crafting exceptionally dynamic designs can be crucial in transforming your school into a showcase piece. Now, envision a space with climbers, treehouses, built-in trampolines, swings that meet disabled children, textured walls, and flowering trees to help further activate your senses. This is no longer child’s play. Welcome to the world of a modern playground. The main purpose of a playground is to increase overall activity and engage the senses. As playgrounds evolved, more elements can be added that increased their functionality and provided additional activities, both mental and physical.

From experience, I've come to appreciate how outdoor spaces and playgrounds serve as an invaluable social environment for children. Witnessing a child's curiosity rewarded with the sheer joy of discovery is truly unparalleled. Moreover, it's essential to acknowledge that every child is unique. Therefore, when planning your outdoor space, it's imperative to design with these differences in mind, ensuring that each pathway is respected and honored. By providing a variety of fun and exciting challenges, we can cater to the diverse needs and interests of all children.

School Playgrounds and open spaces can be a destination that brings people together, increase community engagement and creates a sense of belonging. As an international consultant specializing in planning for this. I provide invaluable insights and support for those venturing into opening new educational institutions. With expertise in leadership, academic training, and a vast international network of colleagues, you may contact me, Dr. Renata McFarland at International Educational Consultants for assistance in playground and open space ideas.

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