School playgrounds – schoolyards as public playgrounds

by Rudolf Zeevaert

School playgrounds – schoolyards as public playgrounds

The Nuremberg city council was well ahead of its time as early as in 1955 when it wisely decreed that all school playgrounds would be available to play in during the afternoons. Although the school playgrounds thus became public play areas, they still lacked the proper equipment.

After initial cautious attempts in the 80s, it was in 1992 that the first proper school playground (Knauerschule) was realised to the delight of the children. There is, however, also often a lack of public play areas on the outskirts of the city. Failures in town planning from previous decades are clearly evident, which is why nowadays it is once again the school playgrounds that are the most common, problem-free alternatives to act as plots of land for playgrounds. In Nuremberg a good half of all school playgrounds (46) have been converted into playgrounds. In densely populated districts they serve the purpose as a local play area as defined by DIN 18034.

This process has enabled consistently positive experiences: playgrounds are safe, familiar places for children. The way there is well known.
Parents know that their children are better off there than at other playgrounds, although there is no supervision in place. Empirically, girls tend to favour school playgrounds to public playgrounds. Damage from vandalism occurs very rarely in school playgrounds.
School playgrounds help enhance everyday school life, too, of course. The pull of the playground encourages children to let off steam and exercise during break times. This helps children pay more attention during the lesson. Besides, exercise is extremely important in its own right for child development, especially in an age that is characterised by electronic media. It’s true that playgrounds cannot replace the occasional missed sports lesson; however, they can help promote and encourage exercise and co-ordination. They can help enhance lessons in, for example, biology, art and sport.
Legislation on inclusion, which decrees disabled and able-bodied individuals be taught in the same school, changes nothing in Nuremberg as far as the design fundamentals are concerned. For many years here now the ‘guidelines for the integration of children with restrictions’ have been applied to all play areas and school playgrounds.

There are, however, downsides every once in a while:
Residents often have objections to school playgrounds because they deem the noise generated by the children to be unacceptable. Teachers are afraid that the previously controllable school playground could spiral out of control. Both of these issues applied during the planning of the school playground at the Scharrerstrasse Primary School. The objections lasted two years. The city won a trial against the neighbours who had sued. The state local educational authority finally managed to convince the teachers after applying some pressure. The school playground could be built. The teachers’ concerns have, as of yet, still not been justified.

According to building regulations, school playgrounds are comparable to public play areas and are, in most instances, approved although they generally are not insured as public play areas from a construction planning perspective. However, school sport areas (ball game areas) being used by the public represent a problem as per the new noise law legislation for children’s playgrounds when they are simultaneously used as school playground areas and there is no clear division between the two. This very situation presented itself at Pirckheimer secondary school. The all-weather sports pitch became a public football field. Neighbours took legal action and the building regulations authorities refused approval. It was also to no avail that the director of the neighbouring retirement home welcomed a playground: “The elderly must be allowed to get quite agitated about children and young people, it keeps them young.”

Warning - playground!

A couple of things should be heeded when equipping an area with play equipment:
Example 1: At the St. Johannis Primary School there was initially only one piece of playground equipment in the grounds. During the school breaks there were disputes which led to accidents (fortunately nothing serious). It was only once additional equipment was installed during the next stage of construction that the situation became less fraught. This is why when initial finance is secured attention should be paid to whether there are sufficient funds to create several (smaller) play activities.

Example 2: Pupils at the Sigena secondary school wanted, among other things, a basket swing. Experts warned against this as children playing and running around during school breaks often miscalculate the speed and mass of equipment such as this. The teaching staff promised, however, to guarantee the safety of the children by organising break supervision. After all, it was secondary school pupils we were talking about, who could anticipate such things. The school playground had scarcely been opened before the first cries for help reached the authorities

Planning in Nuremberg

Before a school playground is planned in Nuremberg, all of the parties involved in the project enter into a joint contract. The contract pertains to arrangements ranging from financing to the realisation of the project and the eventual operation and maintenance of the play area. The children are heavily involved in the planning process through two user participation sessions.
The financing required for school playgrounds is something that the city of Nuremberg has not been able to afford for some time and is subsequently increasingly dependent on grants and donations. In the Südstadt (south) district of Nuremberg, with its dense population, the shortage of public play areas was at its worst. With the aid of a European Union grants programme (goal 2), three school playgrounds were made possible in this area. One of these is at the Sperber school.
Other sources of finance such as urban regeneration funds are used wherever possible. An example of this is the ‘Social Town’ federal program to which the Nuremberg Nordostbanhof residential estate successfully applied for funds to subsidise the creation of the school playground at the local Konrad- Groß school.
For several years now there has been a municipal program called ‘From 1 make 3’. This programme requires that a third of the finance is derived from citizens’ initiatives that bring in donations; the rest is raised by the city. Finally, there is a City Housing Association (wbg) foundation that awards grants at the request of parents’ initiatives.
The secret to the success enjoyed by the Nuremberg playground concept lies predominantly in the efficient collaboration over many years of several agencies, in particular: the youth welfare office, public spaces service provider (previously the parks department), education authorities and the Office for Living and Town Regeneration. Opposition and concerns from teachers, parents or neighbours that occasionally arise can only be convincingly dispelled if all offices pull together and the unlimited political support, that has been a feature over several decades, is available.

Additional examples

A school playground was also realised at the Carl von Ossetzky school in the Nuremberg Westen district. The project was planned and carried out by Kukuk GmbH in collaboration with the school pupils.

The Bartholomäusschule primary school playground in Nuremberg was created in joint collaboration between the school pupils and the construction team working for the public spaces service provider’s office, which simultaneously trained landscape gardening apprentices.

In the Nuremberg Old Town at the Johannes Sharrer secondary school, the opportunity arose to create a school playground within the framework of the school building renovation work. It was designed to help alleviate the shortage of playing surfaces in the district. Not a particularly simple task given that the school playground is on the school roof and as a result the installation of play equipment was only possible upon certain conditions. The result is a sight to behold: a modern, attractive school playground right in the middle of the historical old town.

At the special needs support centre in neighbouring Schwabach there is an environmentally themed school playground design. The conception and design of the former barrack yard was a tremendous achievement by pupils, teachers and parents, who also took over responsibility for maintenance. Use of the playground during school breaks, lessons and as a public play area is a success. Annual project weeks, some featuring the participation of artists, help to complement what is on offer and helped build, among other things, the basis for the extraordinary success in learning experienced by the pupils.
In many German towns there are, unfortunately, still no school playgrounds. There are, admittedly, often appealing play activities there, but they may only be used during school breaks or by nurseries. Berlin is a typical example of this. The majority of school playgrounds offer play opportunities which were created by the intensive involvement of the children themselves. The pedagogic advice centre ‘Grün macht Schule’ (Green for school), part of the senate administration for education, youth and science has performed tremendous work here for decades. The problem here is running all-day schools, which would allow the schools to decide on their own hours of business. Virtually all of the schools in Berlin decided against this step, however.


It is to be hoped that there is a change in opinion, not only in Berlin, towards a more children-friendly society and that the school playgrounds may also be used for play activities outside of the normal school hours.

Photos: Krautwurst/Raab/Schönfeld/Zeevaert

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