Encourage children's curiosityJosu Sanz Alonso , Universidad del País Vasco / Euskal Herriko Unibertsitatea and Daniel Zuazagoitia Rey-Baltar , Universidad del País Vasco / Euskal Herriko Unibertsitatea
Sometimes a false dichotomy is created between the classroom space as a place of learning and teaching and the outdoor space as a place of recreation. But the playground is not only a place of entertainment. A playground with a minimum of materials offers teachers an interesting environment to develop scientific practices with children, especially as more and more preschools are transforming their lessons to make more room for nature.
The increased presence of unstructured materials and elements such as water, sand, earth or plants provide more opportunities for exploration than a traditional play area with concrete walls and floor.
Despite the low pedagogical importance given to the time spent in the playground, it can contribute to children's learning and well-being. In addition to creating attention, challenge, fun and excitement, play stimulates cognitive development. It encourages manipulation to obtain information from objects and encourages scientific reasoning as children discover cause and effect relationships or investigate possible uses of materials.
When children are engaged in small challenges or investigations, play and learning come together. Teachers can facilitate this connection by linking play to curriculum experiences and fostering questions that encourage children to observe, classify, predict, experiment, and express all of their discoveries.
Vary the spaces
Children nowadays unfortunately spend less and less time exploring nature. In many cases, their contact with green spaces is influenced by adults' fears and need for control, but they also suffer from the lack of suitable spaces outside the classroom.
Many school playgrounds generally do not include natural elements, or their presence is anecdotal and without educational interest. However, more and more schools are gradually and consciously introducing unstructured materials into the traditional playground, and even carrying out complete transformations by greening it.
These spaces can be an appropriate environment for science learning because, as in nature, we can find a high degree of variability (in sounds, shapes, textures) and stability (in patterns, systems) .
A natural environment is synonymous with a rich environment, where learning is stimulated and fostered. A naturalized playground or outdoor space intended to serve an educational purpose must include, among other things, the following elements:
accessible water in the form of streams, fountains or puddles;
rocks, sand and different types of soils and pavements;
A sometimes rugged topography as well as heights with ropes, tunnels, tubes and passages;
a diversity of trees and plants;
constructive and symbolic play elements, digging tools, buckets for decanting and other storage materials;
paths and trails cross the space, as well as private areas to hide and, of course, common areas to socialize and rest, among other things.
Stand up to child
By combining trees, games, paths, a space may appear aesthetically or functionally appropriate to adults, but it must still be attractive and useful for children, that is to say that they make it fully use.
The fact is that the children's approach works from another key: what the space “invites” them to do – and allows them to do. Each child interprets the functional properties of spaces and adapts or personalizes them. The functionality that they will give to a tree or a stick can be varied. Thus, it is clear that the more a space and the elements that compose it are accessible, heterogeneous and variable, the more possibilities it offers.
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For example, the type of trees we have in our playground will influence what children can do there, as some are not tall or safe enough for children to climb. Or, a space with a uniform topology will not allow children to play throwing or rolling objects on slopes.
All these aspects must be taken into account and studied in depth when designing these types of spaces, or when we want to make small interventions or modifications to our traditional playgrounds.
Josu Sanz Alonso , Profesor Contratado Doctor, Facultad de Educación de Donostia-San Sebastián, Dpto Didáctica de las Ciencias, Universidad del País Vasco / Euskal Herriko Unibertsitatea and Daniel Zuazagoitia Rey-Baltar , Docente e investigador en el Departamento de Didáctica de las Matemáticas, las Ciencias Experimentales y Sociales, UPV/EHU, Universidad del País Vasco / Euskal Herriko Unibertsitatea