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Daubeney Primary School

Experimental Playground Week

Synopsis of activities 6 – 10 March 2000


The Experimental Playground Project was about the experience of transformation. The aim of the week was to test out ideas for change that might improve the quality of children’s play and learning in the outdoor school environment. During each day a different element or material was introduced which enabled the participants to focus on a distinct aspect of the nature of the playground.

Activities were planned around four daily sessions – two during morning and lunch breaks when all children were able to participate, and two during teaching time where smaller class groups were able to work with the materials in a more focused and concentrated way. All 485 pupils were able to participate.

Monday: Chalk

The aim of this day was to engender awareness of the whole space, both physical and social and for the children to experience the playground’s scale, textures and materials and associations. Using coloured chalks children were encouraged to touch it, map it, mark it. They were asked to mark their favourite places creating a collective visualisation of the way the playground is used.

“All the children wanted to use the chalk and the playground was unusually quiet for a lunchtime. Children across the entire playground were crouched down on the ground – on their own and in small groups – concentrating and busy.” (Artist)

Tuesday: Platforms

Temporary platforms constructed from one hundred pallets covered in carpet were placed in different places and configurations within the playground tosee how these would affect children’s behaviour and play.

Both boys and girls loved the soft surfaces and generally responded very enthusiastically and with great imagination to how they might be used as pathways, stages, landing points, seating, lounging areas, catwalks etc. The size and shape of the platform had a direct effect on the particular reactions of the pupils, for example any form of circuit became a running track, and anything wide enough became a performance area.

Wednesday: Traffic Cones

Cones and large cardbord tubes were used to explore how dividing the space and creating new boundarieswould affectthe children’s play. The large tubes proved unstable inhigh winds but the placing of them created an interesting visual intervention and may have inspired the idea for the ‘Forestof Poles’. The cones were made of heavy rubber, were robust and could be carried and dragged but not thrown. Their modular quality and the fact that each child could have one inspired co-operative play. The cones were imaginatively transformed individually and collectively into false legs, guns, hats, walls, houses, entrances, trains, and a complex star shape.

After the concentration on tactile and kinetic experienceon the previous days this activity focused on theimportance of the visual. A shed was transformed for the day using lightand colour. It was draped with blackout materialand divided into three separate rooms, each rigged with theatre lights anddrenched in a different colour light – red, blue and yellow. Children moved through the rooms carrying pieces of brightly coloured plastic. They were encouraged to observe what happened to the colour of their clothes and the plastic they carried. They found that the colours changed dramatically and came outof the shed amazed and excited, rushing to tell their friends how their clothes had changed colour and what had happened to their pieces of plastic. They were excited by the transformation of the familiar shed and gained anew understanding of the natureof colour and how our perception of colour is affected by light.

Friday: Combination

On the final day, elements such as chalk, platforms and cones were combined. Following their experiments of the previous days the children were more confident about what they wanted to do with the different materials. Because there was plenty of equipment, they were less possessive about what they had and more prepared to share.

© Copyright Jane Connarty 2003.