Playing to learn - Education Matters Magazine
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Playing to learn

Playground designer at a_space, Jessica Mew, says the school playground is an extension of a child’s learning at school, encouraging them to build confidence and manage risk.

Playing gives children the freedom to learn in their own way, whether it’s by observing or communicating with peers or simply taking a break from the confines of the classroom.

“Allowing children to get outdoors and take in their surroundings, whether that’s utilising formal play equipment or whatever you have at hand is a fantastic way to expose them to experiences that just don’t happen in a classroom. Switching up a traditional learning style and doing more things like incorporating songs or movement can help children learn,” says Ms Mew. “Playing is just another way of allowing children to learn in their own way.”

a_space breaks down the learning developmental benefits of play into six categories: sensory, imaginative play, problem solving, motor skills, social and abstract play. Incorporating these categories into a playground creates an environment that promotes learning and teaches children important skills for life.

Ms Mew adds that risk is another important factor for any play space. “Risk is a buzz word in play at the moment, because we’re finally seeing people embrace the importance of calculated risk. Understanding the benefits of risk can make it easier to let go a little, and let kids be kids.”

A well thought out playground encourages children to:
• Build confidence
• Promote balance and coordination
• Understand their limits and overcome obstacles
• Assess situations and make judgements
• Handle objects correctly and safely
• Understand risk and reward
• Be creative and problem solve

When it comes to designing a playground, a_space speaks with the people who know the children best and interact with them on a daily basis in order to determine which equipment is the best fit.

The company also consults with exercise physiologists, as well as paediatric occupational therapists to look at how equipment can be used to overcome any developmental delays – especially within special schools.

Ms Mew emphasises that challenge is also key. “The move to ‘safer’ playgrounds could be a contributor towards injury, as children get bored with the intended use of a product and start to misuse it to create greater challenge,” she explains. “The danger of over-protecting our children is that they lose the benefits of risk taking. We need to take risks to grow. We need to understand boundaries. And every now and then we need to step over those boundaries to understand limits.”

As well as promoting risk and challenge, playgrounds should encourage imagination and creativity. Multiple entry and exit points, for example, allows children to approach playgrounds from any direction. “This helps to open up their creativity and create an imaginary world within the playground,” says Ms Mew. “Children by nature will create games and imaginary worlds in which they can play. By giving them a few hints such as a car, shop, boat or net, they will create a world in which they can be a part.”

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