Outdoor Learning Environment at La Jolla United Methodist Church
La Jolla United Methodist Church ’s CDC director contacted us to help design and build an Outdoor Learning Environment. As with many of our jobs, they had a small space but big dreams. Their philosophy was to allow the children to create, explore, and get as dirty as they wanted. We love those ideas!
The first thing that was needed was to remove the old wooden play structure, plastic playhouse, and various portable items. Because of the small space, we had to be creative in terms of the size of the play components to be installed. The center wanted a hill slide, sand play area, water feature, construction area, upper motor development equipment, trike trail, and garden path–all of that into a 2,000 square foot area.
The Hill Slide
Because of the limited space at La Jolla United Methodist Church, we designed a half hillslide. Hillslides are a popular component of Outdoor Learning Environments providing kids with lots of fun from going down the slide to simply rolling down the hill. They generally come in three sizes but can be modified to fit any area, budget or design direction.
The front half was the hill with the slide. At the top, we installed a platform with a bubble panel and a shade roof. The back had a rock bench complete with built-in planters. This area acts as the social interaction area. We built a retaining wall to hold the dirt for the hill and covered the wall with a high-density stucco mix. The bench is flanked by two large boulders to create an enclosed feeling for the children to interact in a secure environment. The top and sides of the bench and wall are deep planters for flowers and creeping vines, and the children are responsible for maintaining the plants.
Sand Play Area
Sand play and sandboxes are two completely different things. A sandbox seats 3 to 4 children, has 6 inches of sand with a bottom, and is intended for the children to use cups and some sand toys. A sand play area is 200 square feet and built in the same grade as the surrounding area. It is 2 feet deep (or deeper) and has a water access point for the children to use when they want.
This changes sand play from a static event into a construction site. Throw in some loose parts such as plastic gutters, tubing, recycled plastic blocks, and such, and you can build a city, a lake with a river, or anything else you can imagine.
The water feature for La Jolla has seven water caves that, once activated, use a mister to puddle the water in the caves and run down its vertical face. A water table was constructed with a slight pitch from back to front, allowing the children to dam, divert, and build structures.
There is enough room on the table for 6 to 10 children at a time. The water is activated by an on/off valve that only the staff can access. It uses 4 to 6 gallons per half hour of use.
During the construction of the playground, the children came outside to supervise. They loved to see the equipment digging out the dirt, the dump trucks delivering the sand, and the concrete trucks pouring the concrete. This as, well as the trike trail, solidifies the concept that this was their playground–designed and built by each and every one of them.
Check out all the photos on our Facebook Page.