The Child Care and Learning Centre (CCLC) at the University of Guelph provides a high-quality early learning and care program for 100+ children and serves as a living laboratory for the Child Studies Program at the University of Guelph. The Centre’s creativity and innovation is matched with the same high-standard approach in the design and construction of the new outdoor playscape. Recent research overwhelmingly points to the importance of children’s early connections with nature. Increasing the amount of time children spend outdoors has been a primary goal for the CCLC. The naturalized outdoor play space is the newest learning space for researchers seeking to understand the significance of outdoor education in early child development.
The Centre wanted a versatile outdoor play and learning environment focusing on the use of natural materials and maximizing affordances for play, learning, interaction, movement, exploration and risk-taking. Large open gathering spaces, intimate hidden nooks, and a variety of diverse play experiences all contribute to the broad range of activities that can take place at any given moment. The variety of play opportunities are designed to include progressively challenging activities for children at varying developmental stages, providing ample room for growth.
Natural materials are at the heart of the CCLC playground design that brings children closer to nature and creates an interactive natural play environment. Designing for open ended and age-appropriate gradual risk opportunities was among the main objectives of the project team.
Children can navigate their way between active, constructive, dramatic and passive play spaces through a sensory rich garden of various textures, forms, patterns and colours. The dense and complex palate of trees, shrubs, grasses, perennials and bulbs have been selected for their habitat supporting qualities and their natural beauty. The garden will change dramatically with each of the four seasons to further strengthen connections to nature’s rhythms and cycles. In addition to the physical and cognitive benefits of this naturalized playground, it is the hope that instilling connections to nature at an early age will foster environmental stewardship and awareness for future generations.
The design for this challenging and exciting site embraces and builds upon the organic forms found in nature and is primarily constructed of natural materials. This outdoor space is educational, attractive and fun for children of all abilities, taking its place within the larger fabric of the campus.