Walden Begins Collaborative Process To Design Green Schoolyard

October 17, 2010

On Saturday October 16, 2010 a group of twenty-five enthusiastic parents and teachers gathered in the Walden studio to continue the process of designing a green schoolyard at Walden. Lisa Howard, a Walden parent and Landscape Architect specializing in sustainable schoolyard design, led the two-hour workshop beginning with a slides how and talk that showed unique schoolyards from around the world. Walden’s Collective went through a similar process two weeks beforehand and came up with some exciting ideas about how they would like to see our outdoor space utilized for learning and play. Saturday’s meeting was one step in a process that aims to have a final schoolyard design completed for Walden by the end of this school year.

Lisa’s talk and slide show was interesting and informative as she touched on varying design priorities in other school communities. Looking at spaces in both public and private school settings one could see that different communities valued an array of qualities such as: comfort, social space, water play, outdoor classroom space, and community art. There were examples of schools that created giant, outdoor games such as chess and schools that integrated water play features into their design. Attendees seemed to enjoy viewing spaces at European schools that could accommodate play structures that allow for more risk taking than we see here in the States.

Lisa’s basic rules of design are: use one-third of space for active play, one-third for small, focused play, and one-third of space for the footprint of the buildings; dream big and start small; never finish – let the process evolve over time to keep everyone interested and invested; involve everyone; and plan for stewardship.

Once the slide show and talk was finished, parents asked questions and the creative juices began to flow! Ideas such as a graffiti wall, habitats for animals such as butterflies, a play space that allows for students to take appropriate risks, a space that better interacts with our neighborhood surroundings were all discussed. And that was only the tip of the iceberg! Others voiced the desire for outdoor classroom space that allows for greater interaction with the environment as well as space to create art on a larger (and messier) scale. How about an edible garden? And social spaces and places for kids to be outside even when it rains? And we could really use some sort of flexible outdoor performance space that can be used everyday and also for larger performances such as the Spring Fair. The ideas were creative, thoughtful, and endless!

It is always heartening to hear Walden parents voice their opinions and get excited about the possibilities for their children. Many parents had strong feelings about making sure our children’s space isn’t too safe, or too dumbed down like so many of the newer playgrounds we see replacing the wooden structures many of us grew up with. Others want to see the kids take an active role and ownership in creating and taking care of the space. Overall it was nice to see what a strong emphasis Walden parents put on having opportunities for creative play and social interaction for our children and how invested the group is in helping to make sure our current students and students for years to come have the best and most fulfilling educational experience possible.

After much lively discussion and participation by everyone involved I am looking forward to the next step in the process, which will be a workshop with the students. After hearing the ideas that came from our parent body, I can’t wait to see what ideas our students cook up!

Sarah Cheney
Upper Group parent

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