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Thriving in Childhood through Outdoor Play and Learning (OPAL)
Emily Kutz, Lower School Intern

Arguably one of the most exciting times of the day for Lower School students - recess - is becoming even more exciting with the planning of a new playground. The design is being guided by principles set in the UK-based OPAL Primary Programme, which works to create environments that encourage all types of play and learning. 

According to the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, play is a child's right. As a school, ASM is responsible for creating opportunities for natural and student-guided play as a form of learning. Now that we are getting a new playground, we aim to embrace natural play in diverse spaces. The OPAL Primary Programme guides how we work together as a school community.  Students, teachers, and families have been involved in the initial planning, sharing their hopes and dreams for the playground while creating concept maps in teams. 

The new playground will span across the current parking lot, administrative offices, the Early Childhood playground, and one of the sports fields. The goal is to create a space full of natural materials and opportunities for children to create their own experiences and learning. Play teaches children all the things they cannot be taught in a classroom and encourages them to build independence, self-regulation, and explore their favorite types of physical activity. OPAL playgrounds encourage all students to participate and give them opportunities to foster their individual creativity, imagination, and collaboration skills. Additionally, they provide diverse materials students use to create their own adventures. What looks like just a few large rocks to adults might become a spaceship for a day or a pirate ship for children. As these playgrounds are built, the school community works together to understand what is best for the students and how this can be supported in the physical space in a sustainable manner.

 

While planning and preparation are underway to create the new playground, students are beginning to have more play opportunities within their current spaces. This looks like large building blocks, music, small toys, and kitchen items, as well as tents for older students to explore and large tires and pipes in the Early Childhood playground. Students are learning about how they can use these materials as well as take care of them. Building these skills now will allow more spaces and materials to be used when the larger playground is ready for use. 

Students are excited to have endless opportunities for creativity and exploration at recess. As the new playground is created, students will gain an incredible space where imagination can flourish for years and the community can grow stronger.