with and on playgrounds
In a city that’s part of so-called Canada’s ‘chemical valley’, a group of early childhood educators, researches and pedagogists are working to reimagine what playgrounds do in early childhood education settings, and how might these outdoor play-focused spaces connect to educational philosophies of today and challenges of tomorrow.
Stemming from the belief that playgrounds can do MORE than ‘develop’ faster, better, stronger neoliberal subjects, but instead contribute to the making of different worlds, the project looks closely at the connection of design and pedagogy.
How do we deeply and meaningfully intertwine pedagogical work and design? What might playgrounds look, feel and work like if the considerations behind their design and purpose are not driven by developmental psychology alone? How might we rethink playground design beyond the centrality of a developing human?
The play/ground(ing) project is a two-year project and is ongoing as of the time of this paper (presentation). Its initial ideation began in 2020, when the child care centre where the work took place received municipal funding for expansion and related revitalization of preschool playground space. With the delays of the COVID 19 pandemic, the pedagogical work of the first stage of research did not begin until the fall of 2020. By the summer of the falling year, the design stage was complete and playground construction started in the Fall of 2021. Currently, the project is in its third (final) stage of what I lovingly call playground occupation. One more, the focus of this portion is on pedagogical work, asking a series of questions including how might we occupy a playground with respect? What ethics will we enact in the space? What are our responsibilities towards playground, place, materials, land and children? What will we do pedagogically in the playground space and beyond? And what sensibilities and thinking will we nurture in ourselves and want to nurture in children in this space?