The University of Guelph Child Care and Learning Centre was awarded a 2021 Excellence Award from the Canadian Society of Landscape Architects for Small-Scale Public Landscapes.
“The project is closely linked to the pedagogical and research activities to which it contributes and responds: It is used for the training of early childhood education students and for ongoing research on nature-rich play environments. Thus the focus of the design is the dynamics of play. It introduces alternatives, including self-directed challenging and creative play, to the prescribed world of playgrounds. The scheme implements diverse, self-directed, engaging and challenging play opportunities in a low-key design approach, with a mix of rustic and manufactured materials arranged in an unassuming manner. Loose parts and natural play elements surrounded by different plant groups are well thought out with great accessibility in mind.”
The Child Care and Learning Centre (CCLC) at the University of Guelph provides an exceptional development program for 100+ children. It also supports the Child Studies Program at the University of Guelph. The design and construction of the new outdoor playscape reflects an elevated approach to childhood development. Consequently, the outdoor playscape expresses the Centre’s creativity and innovation. Recent research overwhelmingly points to the importance of children’s early connections with nature. Because of this, increasing the amount of time children spend outdoors is a primary goal for the CCLC. Likewise, the outdoor play space is now a workshop for researchers to understand the impact of outdoor education on development.
The Centre wanted a versatile outdoor play and learning environment constructed of natural materials and maximizing elements of play. The play space needed to offer chances to learn, interact, move, explore and take risks. Thus, one of the primary objectives of the design team was to design for open-ended and age-appropriate risk opportunities. For instance, the log climbers in the playground include both lower and higher logs for graduated challenge. Open gathering spaces, intimate hidden nooks, and a variety of diverse play experiences encourage a range of activities that can take place. Because of the diversity, children can choose how they play at varying developmental stages, providing ample room for growth.
Children can navigate their way between active, constructive, dramatic and passive play spaces through a sensory-rich variety of textures, forms, patterns and colours. The complex palette of trees, shrubs, grasses, perennials and bulbs demonstrates the interconnections of nature. Moreover, the garden changes dramatically with every season to strengthen connections to nature’s rhythms and cycles.
On top of the physical and cognitive benefits of this playground, instilling connections to nature at an early age is a priority. This will hopefully foster environmental stewardship and awareness for future generations. As a result, the playground is educational, attractive and fun for children of all abilities, beautifully woven into the larger fabric of the campus.