UWE helps children design their own school playground

Issue date: 14 March 2008

Play area at Fonthill School A Bristol primary school has been taking part in a project to make the most of its outdoor space. And the children's input is about to bear fruit with the latest developments at their new playground like a climbing wall and quiet areas.

Researchers from the University of the West of England spent two months studying activity in the playground at Fonthill Primary School, Southmead, and interviewing the children. This information has been used by designers to create a brand new outdoor environment for the children.

Sarah Grigg, from Creative Partnerships who commissioned the research, said, “On arriving at Fonthill children used to be met with a vast stretch of tarmac surrounded by stern-looking railings. There was nothing to explore, few areas to sit and no shelter.

“Thanks to the research the young people now have a real sense of ownership of the development and design of their outdoor space. They have been involved at every stage, including interviewing designers and wearing motion detectors. This research will help spread an important message about outdoor learning environments. The school will benefit from a space that will continue to develop, as well as encourage the pupils and staff to engage with it in a meaningful way.”

Children from the School Council worked with research student Shirin Rowhani and Professor Lamine Mahdjoubi who used the latest technology such as accelerometers and GPS to track outdoor activity and behaviour patterns. The Council said, “We want our playground to be big – standing out, colourful, fun, safe for everyone with different areas for different things … like games, quiet areas, stuff to touch and smell.”

Professor Lamine Mahdjoubi of UWE's Faculty of the Built Environment said the design of outdoor spaces at schools had a big impact on play, health and children's development. He commented, “Children prefer to interact with physical environment features such as materials, shapes, gravity and smell, which they can discover, explore and experiment with. Too often, safety rather than learning or play value has dominated design, and sometimes play areas can be taken over by games of football, with huddles of quieter children at the edges.”

The research project will continue to monitor how the children use their new playground, in a 'before-and-after' study of the space. Headteacher of Fonthill Stephen Dand said, “I have been impressed by the relevance of the information and analysis that has come through the research, and there have been some quite radical changes as a result. For instance, the car parking in the school is to be relocated, releasing additional play space and removing an area identified as unsafe by children and adults alike.

“I think there is a strong case to continue the monitoring to measure the effect on childrens' behaviour and learning as each intervention is put in place, taking into account not only the new facilities, but also additional targeted adult support and resources such as the play-pod.”

The playpod was installed as part of a Scrapstore pilot scheme to encourage creative activities and adult supervisors have been trained to help children make good use of the recycled art materials. Other new features include a ball court to solve previous problems with the space, a climbing wall, sheltered areas and playground markings. Landscaping also continues with the young people's involvement thanks to the help of Nick Stonex, the designer they chose to work with. Final accelerator readings will be taken to complete the study.


Editor's notes

The research was commissioned by Creative Partnerships, an organisation formed to encourage creativity in schools. For further information visit http://www.creative-partnerships.com Creative Partnerships in the South West is now delivered by RiO (real ideas organisation), http://www.realideas.org
CSV Environment offered advice and expertise at the beginning of this research.

Back to top