The Harley School recently cut the ribbon on its new natural playground and outdoor learning center.
The Winslow Playground and Outdoor Learning Center features two nature-based play spaces totaling more than 7,000 square feet and includes more than 100 trees and shrubs, as well as motor, sensory, creative, social and cognitive play opportunities for students.
While most play spaces are made of manufactured play equipment that tell children where to climb, jump and swing, the natural playgrounds at Harley are designed with materials that empower kids to be the architects of their own play. The space also features an outdoor classroom with multiple gathering areas of different sizes.
“If you’ve ever dangled from a tree branch, rolled down a hill or jumped from boulder to boulder, you’ve experienced natural play,” said Terry Smith, head of Lower School at Harley. “Playgrounds today are often designed to promote safety first, which can ultimately put children at risk of greater injury since they don’t learn risk management skills and what their bodies can do to keep them safe. The design of our new playground encourages risky play while decreasing the hazards, allowing children to select their level of comfort and to seek new challenges each time they play.”
The Winslow Playground and Outdoor Learning Center came to life with the support of several Harley School families, including a lead gift from Matt and Courtney Winslow. The space was designed by Bienenstock Natural Playgrounds based in Ontario, Canada.
By teaming up with Bienenstock, Harley discovered how a well-planned outdoor space can engage all the senses, provide opportunities for outdoor risky play and follow best-practices in design principles to combine education with natural features to create a learning environment that best meets the needs and development of all children.
“At Harley, play is the vehicle for learning, which is something that our family values highly,” Courtney Sands-Winslow said. “Students and teachers are outside in all kinds of weather, playing, exploring, observing and learning. We’re thrilled to be able to provide them with a new space not only for physical activity, but that will help Harley students build lifelong skills for years to come.”
Research shows that kids who spend more time in nature are less aggressive and more cooperative, score higher on tests, get along better with their peers, and are happier overall than children who spend the majority of their time indoors. A study from the University of Tennessee at Knoxville reveals the typical flat, treeless playground keeps kids busy for an average of nine minutes, whereas on natural playgrounds the average is 60 to 68 minutes.