Research shows that outdoor free play gives kids many valuable benefits, including the development of physical, emotional, social and cognitive skills. Carried out in partnership with The Bryan Adams Foundation, and playground designers Made From Scratch, the refurbishment of the Ashburnham School Playground is a key part of the school’s strategy to create a holistic learning environment for its pupils.
The central idea was to overhaul the existing asphalt play areas and introduce a dynamic mix of hard and soft surfaces, trees, natural vegetation, and specially designed play structures to create an urban oasis for the school children. The new playground combines state-of-the-art multipurpose sports courts alongside climbing structures, sand pits and early years’ play areas in a new outdoor learning environment that provides multi-sensory stimulation for all ages.
The beach sandpit is landscaped with boulders and untreated timber, and has a hardwood canopy that collects rainwater. This feeds a series of custom built steel and timber troughs, allowing children to interact and experiment with different materials, and creating a sensory environment for learning and play. A nest swing hidden in a bamboo grove, and a living willow pod perched on a platform create a hidden oasis within the school grounds, built with natural and sustainable materials.
The main climbing structure is over four metres high, and has been inspired by the idea of a dense ‘jungle’ that the children can climb up, under and through. This tangle of logs, balance beams, rope bridges, nets and green climbing vines is non-prescriptive in form, and can become anything the imagination allows, while providing varied physical challenges as children navigate the structure.
A timber treehouse, handcrafted from hardwood, nestles up the largest tree in the school grounds. Sympathetically responding to the form of the tree, it provides a high vantage point over the new playground, and a den for imaginative and socio-dramatic play. Situated at the end of the new sports pitches, is a new landscaped amphitheatre, large enough accommodate a whole class for outdoor lessons, or as an informal viewing area for the sports pitches.
The landscaping of the playgrounds has been carefully designed to include trees and shrubbery that is low maintenance, yet provides seasonal variety throughout the year. The planting has been carefully planned to counteract air and noise pollution from the surrounding streets. Vegetable patches enrich the learning process, while the storage and lighting strategies have also been rationalised throughout the play areas.