UofL education students explore the natural playground as an educational tool

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Primary school students explored the Playcosystem in Bernheim Forest as part of a science methods class

Jordyn Hunter expected to find an ordinary playground when she and her UofL classmates visited the Playcosystem at Bernheim Arboretum and Research Forest.

Instead, they saw natural elements of wood and stone scattered around a carved grassy area.

“I thought it would be a normal playground like the ones we are used to, but it was no ordinary playground,” said the primary education major. “I looked at the balance beam – it was two tree stumps and a long piece of wood. We used to do that when I was a kid! It was very natural. “

Playcosystem Zone 1 is part of a 17-acre playground created to provide elementary-aged children with open and physically stimulating play opportunities using strategically included natural elements and objects, called “spare parts”. to stimulate their imagination.

Sherri Brown, associate professor at the College of Education and Human Development, brought 15 students from her science methods class to the playground in October to help future teachers explore the natural environment as an opportunity to envision new ways. to teach science concepts to elementary school students.

“The idea was to bring them out and see what is possible in a very unique playing field. You see planks, you see levers, you see ramps, ”Brown said. “Earth sciences, physical sciences, materials – it’s all part of the science curriculum. Here, children can experience things that stimulate the questions generated by the children. This helps our UofL students as future elementary science teachers to see what is possible and what is different from formal learning environments.

Primary school students explored the Playcosystem in Bernheim Forest as part of a science methods class
Primary school students explored the Playcosystem in Bernheim Forest as part of a science methods class

Students chose and examined three separate areas of Area 1 to examine how children could use space and how, as a teacher, they could use objects found in the natural world to initiate discussions about science and other subjects to their own students.

Another feature Hunter noticed was a swing hanging in a single line so it could move in multiple directions.

“It shows strength and movement. We could talk about music in the noise it makes when it moves. There were so many areas of content and concepts that could be taught in this place, ”said Hunter. “Children play and have fun, but learn at the same time. They will learn for themselves whether they realize it or not.

Primary school students explored the Playcosystem in Bernheim Forest as part of a science methods class
Primary school students explored the Playcosystem in Bernheim Forest as part of a science methods class

Designed by Claude Stephens, director of the Children at Play network in Bernheim, and other members of the Bernheim team, Playcosystem is intended to inspire children to learn by exploring the natural world. Zone 1 of the site, intended for young children, is one of the three planned zones. Zones 2 and 3 will gradually introduce larger and more challenging landscapes and natural features to appeal to more mature children.

Brown, Jill Jacobi-Vessels and Meg Gravil, also from CEHD, study and document the thinking and planning behind the Playcosystem and plan to study how children and families experience it.

“Research has shown that outdoor play benefits children’s social, emotional, cognitive and physical development,” Brown said. “Knowing why and how it was built deepens their knowledge and the framework of how children and parents engage with the site. “


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