Children at a special school have the same play needs

Children at a special school have the same play needs

The open air school (openluchtschool in Dutch) in Breda is one of the largest educational facilities in the Netherlands designed for children with chronic illnesses (LZK: langdurig zieke kinderen). Together with his team leader, Jules van der Horst is responsible for more than 160 children from the surrounding region suffering from various chronic diseases, such as asthma and epilepsy. Young cancer patients also attend the school together with children with other long term physical disabilities who are thus unable to go to a normal school. Although this school thus represents a somewhat unusual learning and play location, its children still have the same play needs as those elsewhere, as van der Horst explains.
“Essentially, children with chronic illnesses indulge in the same kind of play as other children so that we have quite normal play facilities. In fact, we consider it particularly important to offer these children the opportunity to play as normally as possible so that
they too can develop in the same way as healthy children. On the other hand, we need to take into account the fact that we also have pupils here who have never learned how to play with other children because they have been in hospital where they have only ever come into contact with adults. And some of our children have never actually played in the open air before.

This means that we do need to supervise them closely, though we try to ensure that we interfere as little as possible. After all, the main purpose of our various play areas is to provide the children with the opportunity of having fun.”
Playing is even more essential for the normal social and emotional development of chronically ill children than it is for their healthy peers but, according to van der Horst, the necessary financial means were not available until the charitable foundation Het Zieke Kind in Beweging (Exercise for Sick Children) decided to sponsor all LZK schools in the Netherlands. As a result, he was able to commission the playground and play area manufacturer Kompan to realise a master plan that embodied an exceptional play program at Breda open air school based on a carefully reasoned spatially structured concept. This plan, as van der Horst says, was primarily developed to meet the needs of the children. “The specialists from Kompan very closely monitored how our children play, undertook surveys and submitted a wealth of designs.” The result was a structured concept consisting of a range of different 'play areas' where each child would be able to find an appropriate play environment. Kompan documented the general structural concept in a pattern book made available to all LZK schools and with the support of various sponsors, such as the foundation Kinderpostzegels Nederland (Charity stamps for children), new play facilities were gradually installed in all schools for chronically ill children.

In the case of Breda open air school, the master plan provided for the following: a games field, a central play area, various different play areas around the school building and compartmentalisation of the play areas. The play areas are furnished with playground equipment from the Kompan Galaxy and Nature ranges. van der Horst outlines the logic behind the ground plan: “The youngest children play in theclose vicinity of the school building and the further away the play areas are and under the trees, the more adventurous is the nature of the play possible there. It is usual to find the older children here. But the really great thing is that the children can themselves find the placethey like best because you can do almost anything here: crawl, run, climb, build huts, play football and so on. Every child will find something here that they can enjoy.” And van der Horst is not just referring to his own pupils; outside lesson times, the local children from the neighbourhood are also allowed to use the playground.
Although it may be based on a master plan, the playground at Breda open air school looks, at first glance, just like a playground at any other school – and this is exactly what van der Horst wants. “Of course, we are a special school and for that reason we think it is important that everything looks as ordinary as possible. Many of our children have more than enough experience of hospital wards. So their parents are particularly pleased when they see how their children can develop in a child-friendly environment that is as completely unlike a hospital as we can make it. Because our main objective is to help the children to grow up normally.”

Images: Kompan
 

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