Thurton Primary School Playground, by its Children, 2011

(images removed by request of copyright holder)

I really love that I don’t have to credit anyone but the 3-6 year old children and staff of the Thurton Church of England Primary School on this post!

Because while I adore custom playgrounds by thoughtful Arch/LArch practices, the notion that a playspace must be designed by a professional (or more often, an equipment company) is one of the worst things that has happened to play.

Looking at Thurton school’s playground-creation process, as detailed in a newspaper article showcasing their commendation by both the Campaign to Protect Rural England (CPRE) and the South Norfolk Design Awards, is revealing.

1.  They were inspired by an idea;  in this case the picture book “Window” by Jeanne Baker.  “The children explored what they wanted to see out of their own window and what they wanted to adapt in the local environment.”

This is completely different from what usually passes for a child-focused design process, in which children are simplistically asked to draw their ideal playground.  The problem with that is most kids only *know* slides and swings and platforms so that’s what they draw.   People (adults, too) only choose from what they know, which is why this blog continually focuses on expanding the ‘circle of know’ about what a playground is and can be.

2.   Experts were utilized, but were not the primary drivers of the design.  “…the children then wrote their own questionnaires for parents, so they could further narrow down the ideas they had. They then met with landscape architects from Norfolk County Council (NCC) and landscapers to find out if some of their ideas were possible. Finally the children presented their ideas in an extraordinary school assembly to children, parents, governors, staff and the local community. The designs were shown to David Yates at NCC and he took something from each design to make the final plan.”

3.  The installed design, though executed by the experts, reflected a genuine commitment to the children’s goals rather than limited choices from an equipment list.

The Thurton playscape, constructed by local firm MEO landscapes, now includes a labyrinth and story-telling area, a tiny hobbit-like house next to an amphitheatre and stage, a ‘reflective’ space, a secret path, a mound for rolling, tire swings, a playhouse and den-making area, and a ‘really deep’ sandpit.  (’tis true that most sandpits aren’t deep enough for serious digging!).

Such an amazing place to play!

[All Thurton photos by Natasha Lyster]

And for comparison-purposes-only, a ‘typical’ primary school playground.  Make up your own mind which is good for the kids.


10 Responses to “Thurton Primary School Playground, by its Children, 2011”

  1. Paige Johnson said:

    Hi Thurton! Thanks so much for the comments. As I had to remove many of the original images associated with this post, could you send me any new ones of the playscape, and your update plans? I’d love to post them. thanks! Paige

    June 01, 2015 at 3:45 pm

  2. Thurton School said:

    The children love to play in this playground! They particularly enjoy making up plays on the stage, with children watching. They regularly organise their own Thurton’s Got Talent at lunchtimes. The story teller seat is a great place to sit and have a chat. The den making area is a favourite of a different group of children. The mound, which has renamed “hillary” has had snowballs rolled down to see who can make the snowball which can go the furthest or used as a launching pad for flying kites when it is windy. There is lots of equipment which is free for the children to use their imaginations. Over time, lots has been added to the playground, including a music area and fantastic outdoor play covered areas from each classroom which include areas which are developed by the children’s imagination with the help of staff including mud kitchens, maths outdoor learning spaces and at times using the many tyres and chairs to make stuff like caravans, buses, pirate ships or even the Beagle for Charles Darwin’s journey in the Y5/6 class (9-11 year olds). This is a playground which is all about children and their imagination. It is a wonderful play environment. There is to climb and swing on, roll down or be quiet and relax. Of course it isn’t finished and will be further updated during 2015/16. Thank you for highlighting what Ofsted has recognised as an Outstanding Outdoor Learning Environment March 2015.

    June 01, 2015 at 3:08 pm

  3. em said:

    HI!!! YOUR BLOG IS AMAZING…right now im stillworking in a huge project playground area in Brazil to give for the kids in october to this year!!! Thanks for give me a lot of inspiration to keep working with a big smile.

    Erik Martínez

    August 10, 2012 at 6:16 pm

  4. a4annie said:

    I think it's wonderful that the kids were given scope to do this.

    One note is that the kids were in 'years 3-6'. That doesn't mean they're 3-6 year-olds. It means they're in grades 3,4,5 & 6. So between 7 and 11 years old.

    June 19, 2012 at 5:23 am

  5. Lesley said:

    I'm not sure how the original commenter isnt seeing opportunities for large muscle play and burning off energy/running, etc. The picture that shows the fort building area- kids love dragging and arranging those. And the zig zag benches? I'd bet money those are used as much for balance beams and running as for sitting. You don't need to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars to create a place where children can have fun and be social and creative as well as physically active. Teaching kids to think about, design and work together to make a community space -especially on a limited budget- not beholden to some corporation whose sole goal is profit? That's education at it's finest! That's what the world needs more of- working together, using natural resources, and thinking outside the “we're just passive consumers” box- that's the kind of stuff that will change our world!

    May 14, 2012 at 11:00 am

  6. Michael Swanepoel said:

    Great post. I can just see my wife and I having a great time with our four year old nephew.

    February 19, 2012 at 10:26 am

  7. Juliet Robertson said:

    I agree – sometimes “experts” provide a formulaic approach which can lead to blandness.

    I'm hoping to blog about an amazing school in NE Scotland who did something similar… except their sandpit is big enough for the whole school to sit in and everyone was involved in filling the pit with the sand which arrived one day.

    January 31, 2012 at 9:04 pm

  8. Michelle said:

    What a wonderful playspace! Contrary to the poster above I know for a fact my children would play in the garden! I love how it begs for imagination, not many playgrounds do that!

    January 30, 2012 at 6:57 pm

  9. JenS said:

    This is wonderful! Thank you for sharing. I will be engaging the childrens help with what to add next year. Since we are mid winter here in the northern plains of the USA a little summer dreaming will be lovely. It always amazes me how people can still think that slides and swings are the only way to get the physical benefits of a playground. Again, thank you for sharing.

    January 30, 2012 at 6:49 pm

  10. dsh10bg said:

    You have an opinion….I personally think that this garden was done as effort to provide something for the children without a budget. You can spin it any way you like but the bottom line is you don’t have a clue to what children needs or want. To go public, and try to spin it as if this is a wonderful play environment is even a bigger embarrassment.
    Children need physical activities which use both large and small motor skills. There isn’t a shred of excitement or Physical activity within this garden (it’s not a playground). If you were to put this garden next to a real Playground with swings, climber and slides…I bet I know where the kids would be playing.

    January 30, 2012 at 3:29 pm

Leave a Reply