Working here at St John’s Grammar with the students, the families and amongst a dynamic team of teachers is a joy, and when you walk into our classrooms you quickly gain a sense of who we are and what we value. You are quickly welcomed into inviting, warm, safe and engaging learning spaces where students are constantly encouraged and challenged to soar higher and to be the best they can be. It is clear that our students thrive in their classroom environments and they enjoy being here at School with their peers. This is crucial as it has been well documented that this sense of belonging and wellbeing is central to learning.
At St John’s Grammar, our teachers are passionate about nurturing this in each and every student’s learning journey through their daily interactions, programs and practices – but what happens outside of the classroom? Complementary to the learning that takes place within classrooms, is the learning that takes place outside. It is true to say that outdoor spaces, playgrounds and gardens provide great visual appeal to the aesthetics of a school but they serve a greater purpose than this. The yard provide places for children to move, explore and learn during break times through play and it has the potential to provide an extension to the classroom learning environment.
Play is central to the physical, mental, intellectual and social wellbeing of children and it is it is important in that the design of outdoor spaces cater for children’s cognitive, social, physical and emotional needs. Through their play and interactions in the yard, children learn essential communication, critical thinking and social skills such as collaboration, negotiating, leadership and empathy. Positive play experiences can enhance the emotional well- being and mood while challenges in the yard provides the opportunity to negotiate, take risks and build resilience. Cognitive development is fostered as children learn to concentrate, problem solve, be creative and use their initiative. Providing children with an element of risk is also important as it helps children learn how to assess and manage risk responsibly and safely.
School yards that include differentiated spaces for play such as natural landscapes, areas for discovery, observation, construction zones, spaces for imaginative play, garden zones and places of calm and reflection can help reduce levels of stress and anxiety and promote a sense of belonging and safety in the yard.
As part of our Improvement Plan in the Junior School we have been thinking about how we can build upon our existing facilities. We are looking at how we can incorporate new spaces that foster the students’ natural curiosity and inquisitive minds to design, build and interact with their peers in the outdoor environment while building friendships and fostering essential personal and emotional skills.
In our discussions we have been mindful that if we are to make changes then we need to include the voices, ideas and opinions of those who use this space each day – the students! Ongoing discussions and feedback from various student groups and classroom curriculum programs has helped us to gather ideas on how the students wish to use these spaces.
Through discussions with the Student Representative Council and from feedback in classroom programs the students have been able to share their views and bring forward suggestions about how their play spaces can be improved. Across the year levels there has been a consistent and strong student voice of the need for more areas to build, to climb, to swing, to dig, to create and to be.
Staff have also had the opportunity to contribute ideas and as a result we are now in a position to move forward. Discussions are underway with school management and community members who can share their expertise on how to design and developing our outdoor spaces.
It is an exciting time in the Junior School as we look towards not only upgrading our yard but designing new areas that will promote a greater sense of wellbeing and cater for the diverse needs and interests of our students.
A big thank you to the students who have continued to put forward their ideas. We look forward to involving them in the construction process and we invite you to ‘watch this space’ as the process unfolds and the yard takes shape in various stages over the coming months and years.
So….where shall we play today?