The Saint Constantine School Builds Houston’s First Natural Playground
HOUSTON, TX- The new playground at The Saint Constantine School is dramatically different than traditional play areas. The school has completed construction on the first natural playground built in the city of Houston. The Saint Constantine School (TSCS) is located in southwest Houston’s Regency Square at 6000 Dale Carnegie Lane.
The natural playground at TSCS features grassy hills shaded with trees, a large wooden tree fort with a climbing wall and rope ladder, a wooden balance beam, and a hill slide surrounded by climbing boulders that ends in a sand play area.
Megan Mueller, Director of Marketing & Development and lead administrator on this project, spoke to the decision avoid traditional play area construction. “It’s less expensive to build and maintain, it’s more beautiful, it’s more physically challenging, and most importantly, the students think it’s more fun,” she said. “We couldn’t be happier with the response from both the kids and their parents now that we have added the natural playground to our campus.”
Parents have been thrilled with the opportunities for imaginative, open-ended play that the new natural playground provides. “The kids are so much more interested in exploring the possibilities of this new playground. They are playing actively and creatively; getting stronger and learning at the same time,” said parent Amy Irwin.
The second phase of construction will continue in the winter of 2017, adding five more play features. This phase will include an amphitheater, a small hillside cave, a water play area, and a number of climbing features built from boulders and tree stumps. The new playground is part of the larger Outdoor Play and Learning Development Project, an initiative that immerses TSCS students of all ages in the natural world through work and play. This project includes the natural playground, a student-built garden and pond, and over three acres of green space for organized sports and free play.
The Natural Playground Movement
Natural playgrounds developed a global following in recent years as a way of combatting the obesity, boredom, and delayed social and physical development that plague today’s children.
Many schools and municipal parks are seeking alternatives to the brightly-colored plastic playgrounds that have become popular in the last decade, in part because children are bored more quickly on equipment that has been designed with safety–rather than engagement–as the top priority.
Unique elements of a natural playground include naturalistic materials (wood, sand, rocks, etc), an emphasis on varied terrain, and open-ended play features that allow children to use their imaginations freely.
TSCS worked with The Natural Playgrounds Company (NPC), based out of New Hampshire, to design and construct the playground. School officials conducted interviews with students to determine interests and favorite ways to play, and then worked with NPC to complete a 30-page qestionnaire that identified the best playground elements to incorporate into the design.
Finally, the playground also functions as an outdoor learning environment since it is a habitat for many species of local plants and creatures. Students directly engage with the resident insects, birds, and flowers as the seasons change, and teachers incorporate these encounters as supplements to classroom instruction, particularly in the sciences.
TSCS has just completed its first academic year, with 115 students in grades PreK4 through twelfth grade. Applications for the 2017-2018 school year are now open here.