“Oh no, the ground is turning into lava!”
This potentially disastrous situation means a small group of Grade 2 students have to carefully jump from log to log to avoid the imaginary molten rock. Beside them, friends build sand castles that will eventually house SMUS royalty. Nearby, a group of students improvise a play on the new outdoor stage behind the Junior School.
This type of imagination-fueled play is possible because of a major transformation completed this summer to the Junior School playscape. This area stretches from the front of the school on Victoria Avenue all the way to the back fence.
“We had space that hadn’t been very creatively used or imagined, so we wanted to do a face-lift of our outdoor space over the summer break,” says Mrs. Becky Anderson, Director of the Junior School.
Teachers and staff noticed that there were few options for students to play at recess and lunch, which led to large clusters of children playing in condensed spaces (like on the playground or at the basketball hoops). There was also a desire to have a better flow through the campus.
“We value the thoughts and ideas of children. They’re capable and competent, and they’re the biggest stakeholders here, so first we went to the students to get their input,” Becky says of kick-starting the planning process for the new playscape last February. She met primarily with last year’s Grade 4 classes and gave them criteria to consider and requested their input.
“The priority for us was creating spaces for free, open-ended play. We also wanted natural materials and it needed to be age-appropriate for what students who are 5-11 might be interested in doing,” Becky says.
Based off drawings and “millions of great ideas” from the students, the Junior School worked with a designer to ultimately come up with the final redesign that occurred over the summer.
Among the additions to the Junior School playscape are natural “West Coast zones” with large boulders and beach logs, sandboxes, a new pathway from the back gate around the playing field, two new basketball zones, covered playhouses and more.
As Becky mentioned, the new space allows for open-ended play, which was crucial in redesigning the space.
“It was important not to add playground equipment that dictates what kind of play can happen in that space. We want students to make up worlds and games, and use their imaginations when they’re out there,” she says.
“The first day of school… I would describe it as ‘glee’. That kind of high-pitched, excited, running away from their parents to go and explore-type of glee,” Becky says. “They are really excited about the colours and how different it looks. We’re seeing now that every part of the campus is being used. Everyone’s excited because this space now represents what the Junior School is all about. It’s bright, it’s joyful, it’s inspiring; it’s what happens inside the classroom and now it’s outside as well.”
The Junior School playscape project was funded in part by donations to the Annual Appeal.
“We are so grateful for the support from families for this project. I feel that it shows a real belief in what the Junior School is doing,” Becky says. “I hope they feel that it represents a deep sense of childhood and honouring the time that the children have at the Junior School. It’s made for a great start to the year.”