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Playground Spaces and Interactions

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Dave Richardson

on 24 October 2013

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Transcript of Playground Spaces and Interactions

Playground Spaces and Interactions
PHPS School Philosophy
‘The schools intent is to foster the desire to continue to want to learn throughout life and the capacity to exercise judgement and responsibility in matters of morality, ethics and social justice’ (Princes Hill Primary School, 2013)

Princes Hill Primary School (PHPS) core values: Respect, Learning and a sense of Community.

Key Principles of Learning

• We learn through social interactions including interpersonal relations and engagement with human developed media and mediums
• We learn through engagement in meaningful, purposeful contexts where connections are made to our lives.
• We learn through the process of Meta-cognition which involves reconfiguring pre-existing understandings and knowledge.
• We learn through the use of pre dispositions to learning styles, modalities and intelligences.
• We learn through active participation using the many languages of expression. (Princes Hill Primary School, 2013)

A simple example and reflection of the values and principles that Princess Hill primary school hold is the implementation of a student based council. PHPS believes that because the students are the ones that are learning in the schools environment, they should have a say and vote towards the schools implementations, decisions and learning environments.
The purpose of the Junior council is to ‘give students a voice in the improvement of the school, school initiatives and to put children’s ideas into actions’ (Princes Hill Primary School, 2013, para 1). This allows for the students to work collaboratively with each other and the teachers to make decisions that make a ‘positive difference’. This provides the opportunity for children to develop and improve their social skills, such as listening, debating, sharing, critically reflecting, discussion and collaboration.
The overall goal is to engage children in making a difference to something that is relevant, important and meaningful to them.
The student council at PHPS is an example of both the socio-cultural learning theory and inquiry based learning which PHPS base their teaching and learning styles on, and their overall values and principles of the school.
Vygotsky’s Socio-Cultural Development Theory and PHPS
PHPS’s teaching and learning style is based and supported highly around Vygotsky’s Socio-cultural development theory.

Many schools traditionally hold to an instructionist or transmissionist model where a teacher or educator simply ‘transmits’ the information and knowledge to the students. Vygotsky’s theory promotes learning contexts in which students play an active role in learning.
Senior and Junior Oval Observation
Play activities within the senior and junior oval areas showed consistencies on a number of fronts.

In both playground spaces, the boys played games of cricket and kicked footballs around the area.

The girls were engaging in less physical activities such as chatting with friends and doing cartwheels, in areas away from the boys.

Senior and Junior Oval Analysis
Interestingly, it was observed that gender roles within the main playground spaces did not change across the junior and senior school areas. This analysis has focused on the socio-cultural aspects surrounding the school community that influence what we saw.

Historical gender split of physical culture and sports between males and females in Australia (Kirk, 2007) is well documented and reflected in this observation.

A Vygotskian approach supports that culture is “embedded in the sociocultural activities in which students are engaged” (Ward & Lee, 2005, p. 208). Therefore the games and how they are played within the school yard assist in forming the schools culture. This culture is then passed on through the “enculturation” of students where they “learn the accepted norms and values of the culture or society in which he lives” (Wanga & Hab, 2012, p. 265). This will result in continuation of stereotypical gender roles within the school play yard.

From a developmental perspective, children often assume sports star roles during this sports play and in-turn generate a sense of creativity, by adopting this persona. This type of play extends them to the higher end of their ZPD and can assist in the developing of play knowledge (Lillard et al., 2013) as they operate outside of their normal self.

Although split by year grades, these multi-aged areas allow for student development as they have the opportunity to play at the higher end of their ZPD, through the influence of students with similar or higher abilities (Fleer, 2010; Regan, 2009).

"Cat and Mouse" Observation
Children engaged within a unique structure playing “Cat and Mouse”. The game appeared to be rule based, but we were unable to work out the rules.

We observed children aged 6-7 who were highly engaged, physically active and capable of interacting with the structure without incident. The children were running and jumping on and around the structure whilst playing the “cat and mouse” game.

"Cat and Mouse" Analysis
Upon investigation, it became apparent that this structure has been in place since 1940’s and how to play “Cat and Mouse” and interact with the is handed down from senior buddies during school orientation (McKinty, 2010).

The handing down of rules from the older to the younger students allows the schools heritage and tradition to continue and further embed the culture within the school (Ward & Lee, 2005). The transference of knowledge from the older students is also “important because older children play an important role in shaping younger children’s learning” (Fleer, 2010, p. 120) and supports the community values of the school.

The game allows for imaginary play as students adopt various roles throughout the game. Although rules are not totally implicit, they vary across age levels (McKinty, 2010) and involves a high level of interaction between students. These aspects support a play based learning framework which according the Fleer (2010), must “include an imaginary situation, explicit roles and implicit rules and obshchenie” (p 121), with obshchenie being the community and interrelationships between the participants.

Social Spaces Observation
There was a group of girls who sought shelter from the wind and rain in a little alcove on the main deck. They were chatting, laughing and smiling, obviously friends and comfortable with each other’s company.

Another observation was under the trees of the current senior playing area where a group of girls were interacting with each other. Focal point was a bench seat, where some sat while others hopped and danced around while talking - almost performing for the others in their group.

Social Spaces Analysis
It has been researched that some girls find it important to create places where they can freely express themselves, play or converse without the seriousness or roughness of playing with boys. The places created are private, supportive and away from authority, allowing them to pursue social relationships and interests (Christensen & Mikkelsen, 2013).

The girls on the deck is an example of this as the small alcove allowed for a finite number of girls and it was isolated and sheltered from the elements. Although we did not ask them what they were discussing, from our observations, they were enjoying their solitude and the social interactions during this time.

Social Spaces Analysis Continued
The interactions within the senior play area are similar as there was a core group of girls interacting around a central point, away from the rough play of the boys.

This area allowed them to comfortably interact with their select group through creative conversation, movement and play. In support of a Vygotskian developmental theories, these types of creative and expressive interactions assist in the further creative development within those students (Lillard et al., 2013).
During lunchtime, we observed three girls chatting and laughing within a natural setting.

They were making a mixture out of the natural materials they found around them, then decided it was a muddy drink and pretended to drink it.
Imaginary Play - Drinking Mud Observation
Drinking Mud Analysis
The three students were within a natural environment, which in itself is known to foster imaginary play and positive relationships with nature (Dowdell et al., 2011).
Natural resources were being used to create a scenario that is outside of their normal behavior.
This type of imaginary, creative performance allows the students to use their imagination and according to Vygotskians, operate at the upper end of their ZPD as they are playing outside of their normal lives. This for further creative development and abstract thinking (Lillard et al., 2013).
Imaginary Play - Digging for Treasure Observation
Four students digging in the long jump pit. Two of the mixed gender group were digging until they discovered some small balls in the sand.

They then worked together with one continuing to dig and the other retrieving the new found treasures.
Structural Equipment and Non-Participation Observation
Senior School:
There was minimal interaction with structural equipment. Some children seemed to be observing how to interact with the climbing ropes, but did not engage with them.
There was no interaction with four out of the six pieces of equipment which included a climbing wall, barrel run and a walking plank. The children who were using the largest climbing/hanging structure at the end of the area were using it as a safe area for a game of tag and a place to converse whilst they played.

Structural Equipment and Non-Participation Analysis
As previously discussed, the school promotes learning through inquiry and imaginary play and a cultural-historical perspective supports that “imagination is central for the play development as well as for progressing learning” (Fleer, 2010, p. 120).
Research by Dowell, Gray and Malone (2011) discussed the notion of decreased imaginative play within a built setting when compared to a natural setting. They discuss the student impact of natural settings to “support their play, learning and arouse their curiosity” (Dowdell, Gray, & Malone, 2011, p. 32).
The pre-mentioned structures are very prescriptive in the way that children must interact with them, for example the climbing wall is for climbing, therefore the opportunity for imaginary play is limited.

The junior school pirate ship was constructed as a requirement from the Education Department (personal communication, 5th September, 2013. These types of adventure playgrounds are designed to increase physical activity and in-turn increase student fitness, self-esteem and overall wellness of the students (Dotterweich, Greene, & Blosser, 2012). Unfortunately this is futile, if the equipment is not being engaged with, which we believe is due to the prescriptive nature of this structure.

Play is such an important role in children’s formal and informal learning ‘…and there is nothing more naturally individual for children than opportunities to learn via play’ (Churchill et al, 2011, p86). In fact, play is so important for children that the United Nations has recognised this as a right for every child (Ginsberg, 2007; Malone & Tranter, 2003a). Early theorists were fascinated as to why children would play. Tsao (2002) describes the idea underpinning the Surplus Energy Theory, suggesting children played to release excess energy. More recent research has given us an in-depth insight into the informal learning gained during unstructured play.
Junior School:
Large play structure within a tan barked area was not being used by anyone at the time of observation.
Play allows a plethora of learning opportunities for children to explore natural surrounding environments (Kidsafe WA, 2013); reveal curiosities within (Tsao, 2002); develop physical strength (Anonymous, 2008); develop an understanding of social skills and norms (Lucas & Dyment, 2010) and construct knowledge from these experiences (Malone & Tranter, 2003a). According to Malone & Tranter (2003a) play should encourage spontaneity, be active and challenging, self-initiated, fun and linked to learning and development. A well designed playground can provide opportunities for children to develop social skills such as co-operation, respect, ownership, belonging and responsibility. Furthermore, engagement within nature and local environments help foster an intrinsic motivation towards stewardship of local and global communities (Sobel, 2008).
They got excited about what they might be and went digging for more.
The following overview will discuss the benefits of play in three categories as outlined in recent literature (Anonymous, 2008; Malone & Tranter, 2003b; Tsao, 2002).
1. Physical / Motor Skill Development
2. Social Development
3. Cognitive Development


The physical benefits of playgrounds are well researched. Not only do children develop muscle strength, but improvements in healthy brain development and large motor skills is well documented (Sutterby & Thornton, 2005; Anonymous, 2008). Structured playgrounds are specifically designed and built to enhance physical strength such as leg, arm and core muscles (Anonymous, 2008). Motor skills such as co-ordination and balance are developed, along with skills like running, hopping and climbing (Kidsafe WA, 2013).

Interestingly, recent research has suggested that opportunities for brachiating on overhead equipment have been minimised due to fear of litigation from injuries sustained while on equipment such as monkey bars, ring treks and overhead ladders (Frost, Brown, Sutterby & Thornton, 2004). Ironically, children are sustaining fall injuries due to a lack of upper body strength, a result of not providing overhead equipment in the first instance (Sutterby & Thornton, 2005).
Playgrounds provide children opportunities to explore their own physical limits. Sutterby & Thornton’s (2005) study on the essential contributions of playgrounds, report children will climb to a height they intrinsically feel comfortable with and progress to more difficult climbing apparatus only once they feel capable. In addition, substantial evidence supports the benefits of physical activity on play equipment, including burning off excess calories (Ginsberg, 2007; Dotterweich, Greene & Blosser, 2012), letting off steam (Kidsafe WA, 2013) and healthy brain development (Sutterby & Thornton, 2005).

‘Playgrounds are microcosms of adult social networks…’ (Anonymous, 2008, p72) and as such are a rich source of learning for children, allowing them to develop critical core values and social skills (Ginsberg, 2005). Children interact and explore the world around them in social situations such as role playing, group play, relationship-building and discovering social norms (Lucas & Dyment, 2010). Skills such as co-operation, problem solving, verbal and body language, inclusion and team work can all be cultivated within group play. Children learn by playing in groups or alone (Anonymous, 2008) and can occur in structured and unstructured play areas.

Quiet play spaces allow solitary play for children, providing an environment for individual creativity and reflection, or simply for observing others (Kidsafe WA, 2013). Play areas that intrigue and spark random play are crucial to cultivating children’s imaginations. Providing areas with suggestive structures, as opposed to obvious ones like cubbies and shops, encourages creativity, imagination and exploration (Kidsafe WA, 2013).

Providing children opportunities to explore, discover and develop understanding; construct knowledge; categorize; plan; reason; problem solve and think creatively assists children in familiarizing themselves with the patterns and systems of life (Churchill et al, 2011; Malone & Tranter, 2033a). Children’s interactions in play situations, encourages thinking and learning, which builds and develops their understanding of the world around them. They make connections to the systems and processes of the adult world and develop abstract thinking (Tsao, 2002).

Tsao (2002) describes Vygotsky’s socio-cultural theory in regards to play reporting it helps ‘…children develop self-regulation, expand the separation between thought and actions, and develop the skills needed to obtain a higher cognitive function’ (p231). Play facilitates the opportunity for children to develop abstract thinking skills and higher-level functions for cognitive development.
Nature based playgrounds accommodates opportunities for play within natural environments, encouraging children’s sense of empathy and compassion for natural habitats. Studies have suggested links between children’s imaginative play within green spaces, and stewardship of local community environments (Kenney, Militana & Donohue, 2003; Rufo, 2012). In addition to this, recent studies have explored the concept of incorporating the curriculum within the environment in outdoor classrooms.
Malone & Tranter’s (2003a; 2003b) lengthy study on five Australian primary schools and their use of playgrounds, strongly backs up this pedagogical concept, suggesting that providing real life experiences outside ‘supports the link between experience and developing environmental cognition’ (p300). After all, ‘a school’s backyard can truly provide a dynamic outdoor learning experience’ (Kenney, Militana & Donohue, 2003, p26).


According to the online Oxford Dictionary, experiential is defined as:
Involving or based on experience and observation.
(Oxford University Press, 2013)
The experience one person has will always be different to another person’s experience, based on difference of perception, past experiences and construction of knowledge (Beard & Wilson, 2006). Research suggests experiential learning (EL) is in itself an embodied experience, where a person engages with the world, nature and elements with their senses (Humberston, 2011). EL is considered holistic, using senses, emotions and the environment to construct knowledge. For the participant EL is authentic, actively engaging, links to previous experiences and makes connections to life now and for the future (Carver, 1996). Specifically critical for the concept of EL are two key factors – the experience and the reflection (Miettinen, 2000). For real learning and growth to occur, reflection of the experience is paramount. New knowledge is constructed and connections made to real life.

Digging for Treasure Analysis
Through discussions with school staff, it became apparent that in the past, teachers have “buried bones and artifacts in the sandpit for students to find” (personal communication, 5th September, 2013).

This activity is in line with the cultural historical approach to learning, where teachers actively use play as a learning opportunity (Fleer, 2010); promotes imaginary play and allows for inquiry based learning opportunities .

Through this experience, the children would be encountering new knowledge in a social setting that later would be imbedded into conceptual understanding through the inquiry process (Isenberg & Jalongo, 1941).

‘Experiential learning is the sense-making process of active engagement between the inner world of the person and the outer world of the environment’ (Beard & Wilson, 2006, p19). The experience is the interaction between self and the environment, the learning occurs through reflection of the experience.

It is an educational journey for students to consider how the outdoors can offer additional opportunities to learn in a variety of different ways – senses, emotionally, physically, intellectually, spiritually and aesthetically (Beames, Higgins & Nicol, 2011). Furthermore, the most effective experiential education (EE) programs are ones that take place in authentic contexts (Beames, Higgins & Nicol, 2011) giving students further opportunities to connect new information to real life.
One foundation to EL is the four-stage model (Figure 1) which underpins Kolb’s Experiential Learning Theory (ELT).

Described simplistically, a person participates in the experience, observes and reflects on the outcomes, forms abstract concepts and generalizations, tests these implications in new situations, and begins the cycle again (Hansen, 2012).

For teachers and educators this model could be used for EL opportunities in outdoor classrooms. As previously discussed, the benefits of playgrounds and play spaces helps build and develop children’s physical, social and cognitive skills. By incorporating the curriculum to outdoor classrooms, teachers can facilitate learning opportunities that the inside classroom may not be able to provide alone. Designing a school playground that allows class projects to spill out into the school yard or to utilize parts of the play spaces for specific research purposes gives students the chance to enhance exploration, creativity and imagination into children’s education and personal development.
The major concept of Vygotsky’s theoretical framework is that social interaction plays a fundamental role in the development of cognition. Vygotsky believed everything is learned in two ways, through Interactions with others and then integrated into the individual’s mental structure.
PHPS’s strong resistance to the National Assessment Program - Literacy and Numeracy (NAPLAN) and traditional testing method is supported by Vygotsky’s ZPD concept. Lantolf (2002), Wertsch (1985) and Shayer (2002) (as cited in Turuk, 2008) claim that the reasoning behind Vygotsky’s ZPD concept was due to his dissatisfaction in two educational psychology issues; the assessment of a child's intellectual abilities and the evaluation of the instructional practices.
Vygotsky believes that these techniques of testing only determine the actual level of development, but do not measure the potential ability of the child. This supports why PHPS believes that the traditional ‘testing’ scenario’s are not an accurate or appropriate way to measure a child’s learning/learning ability. But rather direct observation of the student’s development and progress is the most appropriate and accurate way to measure the students learning.
The implications of Vygotsky theory are that learners should be provided with socially rich environments in which to explore knowledge domains with their fellow students, teachers and outside experts.
Such things can be used to support the learning environment by providing tools for discourse, discussions, collaborative writing, and problem-solving, and by providing online support systems to scaffold students’ evolving understanding and cognitive growth like PHPS provide.
PHPS focuses on building relationships with each other and the community and understands that developing occurs socially and individually. The PHPS website states that ‘Children as participants in the 21st century need to understand themselves as learners, learn to work collaboratively, engage in new technologies, learn how to access new skills and knowledge and develop the skills of thinking creatively, laterally and critically' (Princes Hill Primary School, 2013, para 1).
This reiterates the schools beliefs about learning and their understanding of Vygotsky’s socio-cultural theory and how they shape their pedagogical practices based on this.
Zone of Proximal Development
Another aspect of Vygotsky’s socio-cultural theory is The Zone of Proximal Development (ZPD). The ZPD has been defined as "the distance between the actual developmental level as determined by independent problem solving and the level of potential development as determined through problem solving under adult guidance, or in collaboration with more capable peers" (Vygotsky, 1978, p86). The inquiry based and peer learning approaches that PHPS encourage allows for students to explore and learn to their full potential. Vygotsky believes that interaction with peers is an effective way of developing skills and strategies, and suggests that teachers use cooperative learning exercises where less competent children develop from more skilful peers.
Inquiry Based Learning
Building from the importance of the socio cultural learning theory, is that both this theory and the Inquiry Based Learning theory (IBL) are interdependent and can co-exist to produce a rich learning environment.

As defined by (Kahn, P., & O’Rourke, K. (2005) IBL is a broad term used to describe learning approaches that are driven by the process of inquiry. The educator establishes a task and monitors progressions but the students have minimal restrictions to inquire, discover, research and thinking critically about the tasks.

The students are encouraged to operate in an environment where they seek evidence to support their ideas and work together to analyse materials and produce outcomes. Team work and the exchange of ideas and opinions combined with the directed environment for students to inquire explains how both the socio-cultural theory and IBL theory must co-exist for either theory to entirely be implemented or understood.
The key principles of IBL are developing learning patterns and habits that prepare students for lifelong learning, to become curious and actively explore new evidence. This principle was a key focus point at PHPS where heavy focus is shifted towards a higher level of responsibility on the students, creating open-ended scenarios that require a deeper understanding of topics with a variety of solutions. PHPS believes that by concentrating on this particular learning style students develop far greater critical thinking skill sets and ability’s and thus creates larger opportunities for deeper understanding of tasks and knowledge in the future.

PHPS is highly focused on inquiry based learning and believes that ‘New pedagogical practices are evolving to enact these principles through a focus on inquiry led research projects including approaches such as; learning agreement time involving negotiated learning, targeted learning, individual and small group conferencing and workshops with a focus on provoking thinking' (Princes Hill Primary School, 2013, para 4).
In an interview with a grade 5 student, we discovered they had an inquiry project with an overall theme/concept but no boundaries or limitations in what they were allowed to explore within that concept. They were able to work by themselves or with a group, and had no limitations to what they studied or how they went about it. The criteria of the project was extremely open ended and did not withhold the students to something structured. Instead they were afforded the opportunity to explore and research their chosen topic in a format and learning style that suited the individual, creating a rich learning experience.
Playground Observations
and Analysis
Classroom into the outdoors
‘Every function in the child’s cultural development appears twice: first, on the social level, and later, on the individual level; first, between people (interpsychological) and then inside the child (intrapsychological). This applies equally to voluntary attention, to logical memory, and to the formation of concepts. All the higher functions originate as actual relationships between individuals.’ (Vygotsky, 1978, p.57, as cited in Lantolf, 2004)
Figure 1.
Micheal Golby, Chloe Hampshire, Kim Hynes, Dave Richardson
Click play to view video
Click play to view video
Click play to view video
Click play to view video
Click play to view video
The modernization of teaching should move away from looking at pictures and reading texts, and teaching classes outdoors should begin to become a more common practice among teachers (Estes, 2004). In these environments students have the opportunity to use their senses (sight, touch, smell, sounds, taste) to make a meaning for themselves on how they feel about a particular subject or topic (Beames, Higgins, & Nicol, 2011). By incorporating these outdoor spaces into everyday classroom activities students have the chance to bond with the world and feel comfortable in an array of different environments (Sobel, 2008). These pictures are some intersting examples of how outdoor spaces can be turned into everyday classrooms. From these two designs topics such as time, distance, astronomy, architecture and engineering may be explored. Experience is the key when learning and understanding a new concept or idea (Priest, 1986).

Expanding on the
The stage area that we saw at PHPS was really amazing and well used by a large number of the students. One aspect that could be altered in this area may be the aesthetics of this particular place. A more appealing environment among educational spaces has seen to increase the participation levels of students and engaged in what they are leaning about (Marsh, 2010). As we looked upon it, it was a plain stage which did not seem aesthetically inviting. The picture seen here represents one way in which a more inviting space may be able to attract more students to become involved in this area and feel comfortable within the space. Children who feel comfortable within their school environments are more likely to immerse themselves fully in any situation or topic (Marsh, 2010).

This idea is also a perfect example of how a well structured design can become a multi purpose area, in which many different activities can be undertaken. Multi purpose areas are ideal for cross-curricula opportunities where an array of different tasks may be undertaken such as performances, dances, music lessons ect. This may relate to a students ZPD, if students are not moving across the school after each session they may feel more comfortable within an environment and therefore more productive (Hill, 2012).

Extending Existing Play
Continuing on with areas that worked well within the school is a game invented by the students. They had designed a game which ran across the whole school, based on currency of rocks, mud and other items which they then traded amongst each other. We were made to understand that the rocks were used as money and kept in a “bank” in which records of who and how much each person had. This 'game' was then extended into the classroom by the teachers and incorporated within the curriculum.
This game was a perfect example of how important a child's imagination is in play, in comparison to high tech built structures. As we examined the schools outdoor settings across the day it become apparent that imaginative games were dominant over students playing on “typical” built structures. Research has shown that learning and development depends on experience, and as this game is already a positive one, it would be appropriate to expand on it and the students imagination (Eggen & Kauchak, 1999). From the PHPS visit and the research done into this particular area we have tried to base our new design on the idea that less can be better, in that students are then able to imagine how where and why they play.

Providing Imaginative Cues
By providing simple materials such as chalks, paints and an area to design, opportunities for students to become more creative are enhanced (Rebecca & Wellhousen, 2005). As seen at PHPS, in the first picture, spaces to be creative and chalks were available and often used by the students. Cues such as these tools/areas have been found to be excellent playground resources as students are given the opportunity to design and play in the areas how they see it with their own imagination (Whiting, 1958). An idea to further this area of play could be to incorporate a “graffiti wall”, as seen in the second picture, to further the imagination and creativity of the students. These types of outdoor environments support a child's imagination and create positive relationships between a student and the environment (Dowdell, Gray, & Malone, 2011).

Stimulates such as these were seen in many different spaces at the Princess Hill Primary School and in which research has found to be an effective tool when trying to engage students in their imagination, play and games (Eggen & Kauchak, 1999). By painting rainbow colours around the school to brighten up the environment, students may feel more motivated and feel a sense of belonging to a particular environment (Marsh, 2010). Researchers that undertook a study in this field compared a colourful room to a standard one, where their findings concluded with a positive change in behaviour within the colourful room (Horowitz and Otto in Marsh, 2010). This positive change in behavior led to students participating with a positive mindset, and is why in many of these slides most if not all of the structures are bright and colourful.

Being Creative and Brightening up the Space
These are just some simple ideas on how to turn every day “inanimate” objects into something more. The photo on the right reinforces the concept of taking the classroom outside, as it again provides stimuli for topic discussion and provides opportunities for students to become creative and design what could go on these fences. This could even go one step further by using real plants to gain another topic of study and interaction. These spaces again reinforce the point that outdoor spaces are an exceptional tool that should be used by teachers to enhance the understanding of students through real world experiences (Estes 2004). The first picture is an ingenious idea for a space where students can relax and have time to talk amongst each other. This relates back to the theory that learning is built and constructed through social interactions with others (Churchill et al., 2011).

Social Spaces
Being social is a major component of learning development and interacting with others within a multitude of spaces (Churchill et al., 2011). The above picture is an example of what structures could be put in place to enhance student interaction with outdoor space. What we observed at PHPS were girls huddled around a doorway at lunchtime. A structure like the one above could not only enhance their interactions with the outdoors but with other peers as well. It was chosen because it looks like an appealing place to hang out and as research has suggested a more comfortable space allows students to engage in an experience to their full potential (Marsh, 2010). The socio-cultural theory that experience is based around historical events with peers and others, suggests that if structures such as the above were in place students may gain a more positive relationship towards the outdoors (Churchill et al., 2011).

Take risks and face challenges
Areas such as these are not only simple but they also give the students a possibility to learn through taking risks, facing challenges and overcoming difficulties (Davis, 2010). These simple designs provide opportunities to enrich students imagination for they do not explain to students in any way how they should interact within that environment. Imagination is one of the key components to consider when designing play spaces as it creates more courteous students and strengthens their relationship between play and learning (Dowdell, Gray, & Malone, 2011). In these outdoor spaces physical skill development has the potential to increase in areas such as climbing, balancing, jumping and motor skill development (Sutterby & Thornton, 2005). As teachers we need to step back and let students experience through discovery, they will only climb or go as far as they feel comfortable with.

Contemporary Designs
At PHPS the majority of playground equipment was structured around “typical” green frame designs as seen in the second picture. Structures such as the first image have the possibility to enrich imagination for there is no bias on where to jump, where to hang ect. (Dowdell, Gray, & Malone, 2011). The less built structures the more imagination the students will use and therefore become more entwined with their relationship between play and learning (Dowdell et al, 2011). It is really important to use natural equipment and designs as the students are then given the possibility to gain skills within these environment (Dowdell et al, 2011). These skills are then transferable when students are faced with similar environments in a real world situation.

Natural Vs Built
Natural spaces have been found to enhance the imagination of students in comparison to built structures (Dowdell et al, 2011). Structures such as these increase “pretend play” and have been found to have a strong relationship with enhancing children's creativity (Barbour, 1999). Research conducted by Barbour (1999), has shown that a child's behaviour is heavily linked to how the structure of an outdoor environment is designed. The research has also shown an increase in creativity was apparent in students who used spaces such as these for only a small period of time (Barbour, 1999). This is why we have tried to incorporate natural environment such as these with hilly slopes, uneven surfaces, building materials and more to increase creativity and imagination within the students. It is apparent in the comparison of these images that one is more man made and the other is more natural. Research leans towards the more natural approach but it is evident that that the image on the left has been built to imitate natural environments such as slopes ect (Dowdell et al, 2011).

Learning from Experiences
Several authors are now referring to the environment as a “third teacher”, reinforcing what has been said about students finding out for themselves how things work and function within the real world (Estes, 2004). Outdoor spaces are an excellent way of students actively engaging with an experience and finding out what ways of learning are best for them (Chickering, Gamson & Poulsen, 1987). The two examples (gardening and making a stream) above are great visual representations on how learning occurs from experience. One major theorists opinion is that a genuine education comes from a participation in an experience (Dewey, 2007). In saying this Dewey states that the principle of “doing” and “thinking” about an experience are just as important as one another (2007). This is where it is important to get not only the opinions of teachers but students as well when schools consider remodeling their outdoor facilities.

Student Centered/ Princes Hills Culture
At PHPS the students in collaboration with the teachers had designed a structure that they were soon implementing into their playground. The use of student and teacher collaboration is an excellent way of demonstrating how this school is designed around a very student centered approach. Students who have had a say in how and why they learn what they do, approach a task with one hundred percent willingness and gain a more meaningful experience (Priest, 1986). This is also where an experiential approach to education comes into practice. As discussed earlier, genuine education comes from experience (Dewey, 2007). These images represent how using affordable materials, such as items from the natural local environment or old tires, give an opportunity to the students to build and design structures similar to these. Imagination is the key for students to learn and grow.

Socio-Cultural Overview
Literature Review- Benefits of childhood development in playgrounds and outdoor play spaces with particular focus on Experiential learning theories.
Table of Contents
Section1- Socio-Cultural Overview

Section2- Playground Observations and Analysis

Section3- Literature Review- Benefits of childhood development in playgrounds and outdoor play spaces with particular focus on Experiential learning theories.

Section4- Redesigning the Playground
The following research assignment is based on theoretical teaching practices and observations at Princes Hill Primary School.

An analysis of lunchtime student play was conducted to provide an overview of current student behaviour, which formed our baseline data.

A comprehensive literature review of childhood developmental benefits through interactions with playgrounds and play spaces was completed with a focus on Experiential Learning Theories. The findings from this, along with current play behaviours provided the rationale behind our playground layout proposal.

The proposed playground layout is backed by theory and examples taken from best practice from around the world. The result is a playground that allows for student learning during lunchtime play and opportunities for cross curricular teaching in the outdoors.

This research assignment has afforded us the privilege to visit an innovative school who implements Vygotsky's socio-cultural learning theory within classrooms, fostering positive relationships between students, teachers and the community. This authentic learning environment encourages responsibility, judgement and morality within students and aims to develop lifelong learners.

Initially, this assignment discusses the socio-cultural learning theory within the classroom, followed by observations and analysis of the existing playground A literature review of the benefits of play was presented, along with an examination of experiential learning and experiential education, focusing on Kolb's ELT. We concluded the assignment with our suggestions for redesigning the playground to encourage experiential learning, with suggestions for cross-curricula opportunities. Each section is backed up by peer reviewed literature.

Through this process we discovered the theory behind PHPS within the classroom was clearly evident. Structurally, buildings have been physically altered to cater for this approach to learning. However, the outside playground was very similar to many traditional schools. We would strongly encourage PHPS to consider redesigning their outside play spaces to further foster their school philosophies and to develop the imagination of their students through an experiential learning theory.
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Thank You
Michael Golby
Chloe Hampshire
Kim Hynes
Dave Richardson
Figure 1
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