Wednesday, August 4

School playgrounds: outdoors, education, play and more

Within the small city that is each school, the patio is its square. In this outdoor space of free and shared play par excellence, boys and girls, from the time they enter with 3 years and leave with 12, spend more than 3,000 hours (or more than 4 whole months) playing, living together and learning. As educational spaces that they are, it is necessary to (re) think schoolyards so that they are more naturalized, coeducational and community-based.

In the wake of the pandemic, courtyards, as well as the outdoors, public space and urban nature, have been sought out and valued like never before. In fact, we could well consider them a common (and rare) good of our cities. The pandemic has accelerated this commitment to (re) thinking about courtyards and has reminded us that, far from being a fad, it is a necessity, for all children, but especially for those who live in more precarious homes.

But, in reality, it is not something new and for some time in several schools and cities we have been promoting reflection from educational innovation, materializing projects and public resources to the strategy of transforming the patios. Barcelona shared a European project of converting schools into climate shelters with Paris, where they called it “patios oasis”; or Madrid, where they are working in their “wild patios”.

There are different shared motives for this effort to improve the patios. The first, to take better advantage of all their pedagogical potential by linking them with the educational projects of the centers. It is very important that the environment favors physical and emotional well-being (and, with it, the desire to learn), as well as the diversity of possibilities for play, co-education and positive conflict management.

The schoolyard is a living space where childhood experiences and learns to live with all kinds of diversity. In this sense, it is not only necessary to ask ourselves what it is like, how we have the patio (the spatial dimension), but also and very importantly, what we want to happen there (the relational dimension): what more or less conflictive or inclusive dynamics, what more games or less diverse or soccercentric.

Apart from pedagogical and coeducation reasons, we are experiencing a climate emergency that requires us to make courageous decisions to try to reduce it and mitigate its impacts. It is urgent to make facilities, streets and cities more sustainable and resilient environments by incorporating vegetation and more natural and permeable soil, generating shadows and thermal comfort. With this, protect the health of the planet and citizens, especially the little ones. Among others, this is recommended by the Catalan Pediatric Society when it raises the need to “green” schoolyards and do more activity in contact with nature for the healthy development of childhood. And the great teacher Rosa Sensat told us: “the best school is the shade of a tree.”

Patio by patio, we advance in this challenge of the urban agenda of livable cities that, although it may seem small-scale, has depth: they are steps forward towards the most sustainable, green and resilient city that fights against climate change by reducing the gray and increasing the green also in the patios. And, at the same time, towards the playable city that combats sendentarismo, pantallismo and childhood obesity with games and physical and sports activity, and that Barcelona is promoting with its own Game Plan in public space with a 2030 horizon. A pioneering plan that starts from the recognition of the game as a right of childhood and adolescence.

Any paradigm shift creates tensions. It is in this sense that it is logical that entities in the world of sports have warned of what they perceive as the risk of losing opportunities for physical and sports activity for children and adolescents. It is not about marginalizing or undervaluing sports practice. Our cities are dense and many have deficits in sports facilities. For this reason, many educational equipments are also used for extracurricular sports activities, aware of the importance and benefits for comprehensive health and education in the broad sense of play and physical-sports activity at school age. In fact, it allows you to learn very valuable skills and abilities without realizing it (teamwork, cooperation, risk management, frustrations and successes, self-knowledge and self-esteem…).

For this, in the processes of co-creation of transformation projects we necessarily have the views of both the educational community (childhood, teachers and families) and educational and sports entities that use the patios in the afternoons or weekends. The sports court in schools must be guaranteed, in the same way that an excessive cement surface in the courtyards must be problematized. In the criticisms about whether they lose track meters, what I think is really relevant, the asset to protect, is not the square meters, but the sports activities at school age that take place there. Therefore, if the transformation conditions a certain activity (especially federated competitions), it cannot be considered good until an alternative track is secured in the neighborhood to carry it out. In order to find solutions, in some cases, it is necessary to go from the school to the neighborhood.

The school is an educational facility and we also aspire that each and every one of them, when there are no classes, be a neighborhood public facility, open to various community uses, from organized leisure, sports and neighborhood activities, to patios. open where to meet for free and shared play, like one more park in the neighborhood with a vision of an educating city.

It is necessary to listen to many voices, visions and interests to improve the patios by co-creating and seeking the essential balance between three perspectives: the pedagogical-co-educational, that of physical and sports activity, and that of the climatic emergency and ecological transition. As in other local public policies, in this one we have global city criteria and at the same time situated solutions, always combining the vital tandem in childhood: nature + games / sports. Thus, yard by yard, with schools in the heart of the neighborhoods, with more opportunities for play, physical activity and outdoor education, we take care that our children and adolescents learn, live together and grow in more stimulating, healthy and in contact with urban nature.

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