The Playground Project

A Project by First- and Second-Grade Students at the Child Study Centre, University of Alberta, Edmonton, Alberta, Canada

Length of project: 12 weeks
Teachers:  Lorraine Leskiw, Shanthu Manoharan, Julie Gellner, Fern Reirson, Stephanie Kelly, Tera Woollard

Phase One—Beginning the Project

Development of the new site for children in grades 1-3 at the Child Study Center resulted in the use of a small landscaped area outside the University of Alberta Education Building cafeteria. It was not designed for children to spend their recess there. One of the parents, Kim Sanderson, who worked for the local Parks and Recreation Department as a playground designer, offered to help improve the outdoor space for the Centre. The children shared stories of playgrounds, of happy memories and some of occasional injuries. Children brought in photographs of playgrounds they knew and some of their backyard play spaces. They constructed models of playgrounds out of blocks and clay.

Phase Two—Developing the Project

The children went on several field visits. They visited one child's backyard with a playhouse, balance beam, compost, garden, pond, and pond animals. They visited a school playground. Kim visited to show slides of playgrounds in Scandinavia. The children formed groups to research the possibilities for their school playground. They investigated birds and bird baths, butterfly gardens, compost and worms, bees and wasps, squirrels and snowshoe hare, equipment for games and an inventory of what they already had. The children presented their findings, representing their knowledge with overhead transparencies, posters, 3-D models, role play, and graphs. Discussion led to small groups designing a garden, garden bench, a book about games, bird houses, the frame of a playhouse, a barrel pond, and a concrete bird bath. Some equipment was purchased, and the children made posters on how to use the equipment. The school year ended when the work on the playground was still in progress. The new school year began with this work being continued and much work going into the production of items for the playground. A $500 grant was obtained for the project. The children formed new groups and continued with the work. Garden benches and an arbor were constructed. The first-grade children who had not been part of the work before the summer vacation were introduced to the project and invited to make contributions.

Phase Three—Concluding the Project

The history of the project was reviewed and elaborated by a group of children who undertook to collect some of the "before" and "after" photos, make diagrams comparing the playground then and now, and write captions for the photos and mount them in a book on the project. Once the work on the playground was nearing completion, the children and their teachers arranged for parents to come and celebrate the children's work before the long white winter made the playground into a very different place.


The project presented some interesting challenges for the teachers as it continued for an unusually long period and work was suspended over the summer vacation. At the beginning of the new year the children needed more time than the teachers had expected to gain the momentum of interest and energy to continue with the project to a satisfactory conclusion. In the end, however, the Playground Project provided some wonderful opportunities for the children, with the aid of experts, to make a number of interesting adaptations to the environment they enjoy at recess.

playing at playground

drawing of a playground

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