Movement-friendly schoolyards – A hallmark of the Groß-Gerau district

By Claudia Gust (SIK-Holz)

Movement-friendly schoolyards –  A hallmark of the Groß-Gerau district

Some of those who are older still know the schoolyard as a place with trees, shrubs, trails leading to hidden spots, an adjoining school garden and a sports ground. This may still have been the case in the 1960s.

In the 70s the concreting of schoolyards began. It was hoped that this would make it easier to fully monitor what went on during breaks and maintain cleanliness in the school building. After all, nature is dirty. Schoolyards became miniature barrack yards. Running or standing around. These were and remain the only possible break activities at many schools. Asphalt or paved surfaces offer no special incentive to move, and lead to scraps and skirmishes. Stress and aggressive behaviour increase. It has been demonstrated that more accidents occur in such schoolyards. To prevent accidents, there is more supervision during breaks, which requires the area to be even easier to monitor.
A vicious circle!

What is to be done? The vicious circle, i.e. the clean, orderly and often very well paved area, has to be literally broken and the schoolyards have to be made more attractive for both pupils and teachers. This primarily means creating natural areas, as well as some for movement, communication and creativity.
This interaction between the design of a schoolyard, pupil behaviour and success in learning is sufficiently well-known. Successful transformations are achieved wherever politicians, administrators and private companies and individuals work together.

A good example of this is the Groß-Gerau district in Hessen. Since 2009 monotonous schoolyards have been transformed into movement-friendly ones and this had become Groß-Gerau's hallmark. The Büttelborn Pestalozzi School and the primary school in Dornheim are among the 4 whose schoolyards were redesigned in 2014. These are two schools that, in different ways, have partially or completely transformed their schoolyards.

The school in Dornheim is a small primary school with 125 pupils. A society of friends of the school raised € 22,000. The society of friends had itself procured funding from sponsors, held many sponsored runs, cake sales and similar events. With these funds, a movement landscape from SIK-Holz® was purchased for the schoolyard. The combination of play equipment offers many different opportunities for balancing and climbing, but also platforms for resting, meeting others and observing. The society of friends, led by its chairwoman, Ms Polensky, worked together with SIK-Holz® expert consultants Nadine Menne and Ulrike Gebauer, to select the equipment and coordinate the project. The facility was constructed parallel to normal school operation. Even the breaks were used for some 'practical teaching', with installers from SIK-Holz® happy to answer the pupils' many questions. "The combination of play equipment is just right for our main focus on 'A dynamic school – A school in movement'," said Head Teacher Kirsten Buss at the opening.

A little more money was invested in the transformation of the schoolyard in Büttelborn. A total of € 270,000 was spent on the redevelopment of the yard of this primary school with 220 pupils. The actual construction work was preceded by an extensive planning phase involving all participants. As it was necessary to build on a street as well as on parking spaces between the school and sports hall, close cooperation with the municipality was required. The sports hall can now be accessed directly. The schoolyard is accessible to the public and can therefore be used by the community outside school hours. It is also used by the adjacent kindergarten.

The multifunctional terrain between the school, kindergarten and sports hall, which has replaced the former parking spaces, was planned by Mr Cox and Mr Reff from HKK Landschaftsarchitektur GmbH, Frankfurt/Main. It offers many possibilities for movement and communication. Bushes, plants and the trees that were already there create a positive ambience for this area. During breaks, pupils can sit down on the large stone atrium, which can also serve as a "green classroom". Games and transportable play equipment as well as bikes for cycle training can be stored in two brightly colourful containers.

However, the biggest attraction is the movement landscape planned and built by SIK-Holz® over an area of approx. 35 m x 15 m. In close collaboration with HKK Landschaftsarchitektur GmbH, SIK-Holz® expert consultant Ulrike Gebauer developed a very versatile balancing and climbing trail here, which offers space for about 50 to 70 children. The children are able to repeatedly change the direction on this trail and create new play circuits. In so doing, they constantly switch between fixed and movable elements, which improves their attentiveness and skilfulness. The trail rises from 0 m to approx. 2.5 m. Reaching the individual stopping points requires courage and strength, especially when the pupils have to dangle as they move along. In between, they can chill on platforms and large netting. In design terms, the trail also continues at the entrances to the playground as well as on the cycle path. High robinia wood posts, visible from far off, are used here. They both reduce speed and signal the transition points.

"Our schoolyards are intended to encourage the children to move around during the breaks and develop their motor skills through play," emphasised district administrator Thomas Will in an interview at the school. This is in line with a recommendation for action in the current sport development plan. Following large-scale school building renovation, this plan takes up the need to transform schoolyards that are in an extremely poor state. This is why the Groß-Gerau district has gradually been transforming all schoolyards in accordance with the principle of "movement friendliness". The Büttelborn project is now already the 14th of this kind to be implemented. "And what we have created here fulfils the requirements for movement-friendly schoolyards − in a very special way." (Source: Sport Info 80/2014)
A complete redesign of the schoolyard, as has occurred in Büttelborn, is still the exception. Most schools, like that in Dornheim, have to take a step-by-step approach. The key to success is always to have a concept for the transformation of the schoolyard that takes into account the areas of nature, movement, communication and creativity mentioned at the beginning of this contribution.

Photography: SIK Holz
 

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