Changing lifestyles and working environments make it that children spend increasingly more time at school. Accordingly, the school building and the relevant open space are not only learning but also important living spaces...
When break-time means exercise
The design of school playgrounds has undergone a revolution in recent years.
As a result of German standard DIN 18.031 on hygiene in school construction that was in force to 1981, school playgrounds throughout Germany became monotonous grey concreted areas embellished with a few plant beds; today, playground asphalt and hard-surfacing are being reduced to a minimum. It is now the ambition of schools to create outdoor spaces that are as natural as possible and offer attractive, exercise-promoting and multiple play options.
One of the main objectives when it comes to constructing a new playground or upgrading an existing one is to provide ample play and exercise amenities. The fact that children and young people now tend to take too little physical exercise has become a serious problem. Inadequate motor skills, an underdeveloped sense of balance, a poor level of physical fitness, obesity, postural deficiencies and even impaired mental performance are consequences of this lack of exercise.
Although play equipment on school playgrounds helps children utilise their instinctive need for movement, it must at the same time conform to certain requirements.
At peak times, this equipment is subjected to considerable stress. As soon as the bell goes for break, several hundred children rush out and together leap on the equipment provided.
This means that the equipment not only needs to be particularly stable and robust, but must also be adaptable so that it can be used for a wide range of different play and exercise forms. Most suitable for school playgrounds is thus equipment that can be used by several children simultaneously, that offers the relevant age group appropriate challenges and varies with regard to the difficulty levels of its playability. Many schools thus have play zones in which the equipment is either distributed over a larger area or is arranged in an elongated sequence.
A play zone of this type was recently constructed for the Marien-Schule primary school in Lübeck. A new outdoor attraction for the children was to be built in the inner courtyard of the school. The main difficulties faced by the planners and constructors were the limited space available and the presence of some magnificent well-established trees on the site.
The highlight of the completed playground is a hexagonal 7-metre-high climbing tower. The tower has balustrades of four different heights and a fall protection net to ensure that those climbing up remain secure while they view the playground below. There are various ways to ascend the tower ‒ climbing nets, a ladder and a climbing wall. Attached to the tower itself are a sliding pole and a long tunnel slide that the children can use to get back to the ground. Horizontal bars are also mounted under the tower from which the children can swing.
Next to the climbing tower is an old lime tree that acts as a natural source of shade and around which has been constructed a circular platform that provides seating.
Meandering around the platform is an elongated climbing and balancing trail consisting of various platform surfaces, climbing nets, a wobbly bridge, balancing plates and several balancing and seating cubes. There is also a large painting board where the more creative children can show off their talents.
A new feature that has been added to the playground is a large stage area and here the trees have also been integrated in the structure. The stage can be used as the setting for performances and school events and, with minimum effort, can be readily converted into an open-air school room.
Mounted on an existing wall behind the stage is a large climbing wall. Little wooden figures of ladybirds, the symbol of the school, are used as climbing holds. With its looped ropes and wooden steps, it acts as a small-scale adventure trail.
"We needed to do something as soon as possible," explains Christian Maack, chair of the parent-teacher association, "The former rather bleak site with its table tennis table and basketball hoop was no longer really suitable for the children. The climbing wall, climbing tower and stage now provide them with a fantastic environment in which to play."
"We're proud of what all our dedication has achieved," adds school head Waltraud Mallach. The PTA submitted 14 applications for funding to various charitable organisations. The parents, teachers and children themselves managed to contribute €20,000 towards the project. The local Possehl Foundation donated €100,000, the German children's charity 'Ein Herz für Kinder' gave €40,000 while a Lübeck-based bank-run foundation supplied more than €32,000. Money also came from the Ikea, the Wendelborn and Marwitz foundations. "The outdoor areas of day-care centres and schools always need to be appropriately designed if the children are to be encouraged to take exercise," clarifies Renate Menken of the Possehl Foundation.
Image: Zimmer.Obst GmbH