In the summer of 2009, dedicated parents and children at the Nelson Waldorf School built a natural playground. Imagine a rock climbing wall that doubles as seating for an amphitheatre, tunnels under earth berms, and musical instruments hanging from covered structures. The Nelson Waldorf School received a $20,000 grant from the Ministry of Housing and Social Development to build a playground to enhance the outdoor learning environment at the school. "Studies of children in North America, Europe, and Australia indicate that more creative forms of play evolve in school-yards with a green or natural component than in a manufactured play area," says Luke Menkes, a volunteer and parent on the playground committee.
The group built on the natural elements of the existing space including the 'enchanted forest' that has served many children and their imaginations over the years. In addition to all the forested play spaces, the playground includes slides, swings, and a rock spiral, all of which serve to connect children with nature while developing their sensory and developmental capabilities. Parents and faculty of the Waldorf school have helped to enhance the natural beauty and the magical play that exists at the school through the addition of these play spaces, which are based on the four elements of ancient Greek philosophy—earth, air, fire and water. "The time children spend outdoors has a profound impact on children's learning and behavior. To this end, we committed to build a playground that includes hands-on exploration of the wonders and intricacies of the natural world," says Tanya Thayer, a teacher and parent of the Waldorf school and a volunteer on the playground committee.
Children experience the earth element through a sandpit, sand being one of the most popular substances. Other earth elements include large boulders to climb on, and a rock spiral that the children can walk through or climb on, which leads to a central firepit. The fire element allows adults and children to enjoy the fire together and is used for seasonal school celebrations. Slides provide the experience of air in motion. Swings and arched bridges take children from the earth into the air and then back to the ground. Climbing apparatuses help children experience air as well as develop balance.
David Suzuki says, "Natural playgrounds should be the standard for all our playgrounds. They truly connect children with nature through play and are a sort of classroom for the next generation of environmental stewards." We invite the wider community to come up and use the playground after school hours.