New "Little Village" playground to Connect Youngest Learners with Nature & Real World

This story is part of our “New Learning Spaces” series, a collection of stories highlighting the transformations coming to the WAB campus prior to the start of the 2019-20 school year. The first installment of this series is covering the Early Childhood Center’s coming playground, also known as WAB’s Little Village.

Tree houses. A mud kitchen. A tricycle track with stop lights and road signs.

These are just a few of the features of WAB’s Little Village, the new play area coming to our Early Childhood Center. The renovation project, set for completion in August 2019, is the culmination of more than two years of planning among our expert early childhood education faculty, a leading international school outdoor play space company, and the Early Years students themselves.

The decisions they made about the equipment, spaces, and functionality were based on a small handful of learning outcomes, namely:

  • maximize the utility of the space by increasing the diversity of physical, social, and sensory learning activities available,
  • connect students learning to the real world,
  • increase the incorporation of and focus on nature and encourage the use of imagination.

“All of the spaces we’ve designed have a heavy focus on gross motor-skill development, and the playground is also a space for social skill development. Friendships form over bug-hunting, climbing and riding, superhero play, and playing in the dirt,” said Catherine Kelly, an early years teacher who also heads the school’s Learning Spaces Committee.

The focus on connecting student learning to the real world is a main reason why the name of the new playground is WAB’s Little Village. The tricycle track surrounding the entire perimeter of the space will have road signs, street signals, and stop lights. There is a garden area for planting, and an amphitheater for students to showcase what they’ve learned, and spaces for building, creating, and experimenting with sound. Structures and features of the playground will allow for progression of development, where some areas will require students to have improved skills in climbing or balance to use them – of course, with a serious focus on safety.

“We want students to feel free to explore their interests and direct their own learning through play. We want them to feel comfortable taking risks in a safe environment. We want them to learn self-regulation. And we want them to be able to use what they learn on the playground outside of school,” Cath said.

The team of teachers spent months researching the benefits of outdoor education, forest schools, and connecting indoor and outdoor learning. The decisions were all in line with the Reggio Emilia approach to learning that encourages a connection with nature and use of imagination and the International Baccalaureate’s Primary Years Programme. (You can see a summary of their research here.) Based on the outcomes of that research, the team of educators worked directly with their early years students and the selected company, Greenspace, to make decisions about what types of equipment and spaces they should build to increase functionality in ways that would improve learning potential.

“We want to leverage children’s natural desire to play and give them increased purpose in their learning through play,” said WAB’s Deptuy Director John D’Arcy. “The playground is one of the most important spaces for young learners, and WAB’s Little Village will create real potential for important learning to take place.”

Check out our Future of Learning blog for more about why WAB is changing its learning spaces and how spaces have a positive impact on student development.