Our story

This article was written by At Van Steijn of Goede speelprojecten.

Spring is coming: you could say that nature is quietly making plans to make a big splash soon. And we humans don’t do anything else. Taking a break and secretly making plans for your garden, for a vacation trip in nature, to exercise more or to do sports.  So we talk about the rhythm of the seasons and seamlessly adapt our activities to it. This experiential value is even stronger with children and young people. They especially allow themselves to be surprised by environmental factors and sensory perceptions. Nature as a part of reality is the ideal place to discover, to learn with all your senses and to appeal to your imagination and creativity. It is these aspects that prompted Cedric Ryckaert, a teacher at Sint-Paulus School in Kortrijk, to take a close look at his school playground. With the help of Goede Speelprojecten.

no typical concrete tiles

As with so many schools in Flanders, it was particularly desolate, with the typical concrete tiles as a base. No, it had to become green and adventurous. Nature, trees and animals are brought to the school instead of children to nature. Play mounds where playing green is combined with building with natural materials.

Children long to play outside again. More and more studies show that greenery – or “nature” – has a positive effect on health and well-being. With some colleagues, Cedric dreamed of a unique, nature-based playground.

How it started

From the start there was a working title, namely: ‘a dream of a playground’. Although the initiative to create a new play area came from the teachers, from the beginning possibilities were sought to involve everyone who was involved in the school in one way or another in the project.

The new playground serves as a play and learning environment for all the children of the school. They are therefore the main participants in the process. In addition, teachers and parents also have an important voice in this story.

A core Team Playground group, which consisted of some teachers, prepared a survey in which everyone was questioned. People could indicate what was already fun and what they thought was lacking, so what should definitely come. A massive 260 participants filled out this survey! Really all students of the school were challenged to think about what their dream playground should look like. Based on this, a Junior Playground Team was started. This included students from the 4th, 5th and 6th grade. This working group has been essential within this process. 

Several schools were visited with a green nature playground, a thinking day was held, inspiration was found at home and abroad, and even courses were taken on outdoor teaching and sustainability.

Between dream and deed …..

Cedric Ryckaert: “We went for it, even though the archaeological survey had to be done three times. In addition, we had to resubmit our environmental permit three times and the preparation of a public tender took a lot of time and delay.”

The playground project was one of the 23 projects selected for the Flemish Department of Environment’s Soil Proofing campaign. Through this campaign, the Flemish Government aims at both climate adaptation and mitigation. So that softening results in the prevention of heat island effects, more space for water, better air quality, greater biodiversity, more CO2 storage, etc.

From over three hundred submissions, the project was awarded a grant of 250,000 euros. The plan accounts for 4000 m² of softening, which will allow 150,000 liters of rainwater to be collected and reused. The excess rainwater will be able to infiltrate into the soil optimally.

The jury report praised the high involvement of teachers, students and parents of the school. In addition, the choice of qualitative partners such as Studio Basta, Fris in het landschap and Studiebureau ARA was also appreciated. The ecological concept, the integration of the rainwater infrastructure and the increase of the play value for the children in a new, green, play landscape received praise.

A high hill on which, under, along and around can be played. In the hill is a kind of tube system that is in contact with the new tower on top. For the little ones sand but also a climbing and clambering trail. And what’s really cool is a sand/water play area where children can experiment with water and natural building materials.

By planting local plants, the children will experience the seasons more strongly. Especially the water and construction playground will stimulate the children to interact with natural elements. In other words: splashing play.

Softening story

Cedric Ryckaert already recalled that St. Paul wants to play a leading role in the softening story that is necessary. Committing to more green space and greater biodiversity fits into a long-term vision. More greenery means more play experience. Kenny Windels, of Studio Basta in cooperation with Fris in het Landschap, succeeded in designing a richly structured, varied, challenging and lively outdoor space. A perfect translation of an educational concept to a green outdoor space. This provides ample oxygen for thought (e.g. Axenroos).

The Growebo contracting company took care of the implementation of the project with advice and support from the firm Jan Ooms (Voor Advies en Ontwerp Spelen). Ooms, a designer for the playing child since the 1980s, worked closely with Windels as a safety expert and with Axel Vosters of Mamm’out bvba (Adventure Builders). 

Playground equipment

Goede Speelprojecten bvba. supplied all the play equipment. A specialized company in sustainably produced play objects made of Robinia wood. Goede Speelprojecten realizes playgrounds that are natural and adventurous, that feature lots of green and sustainable materials, that prevent an outdoor space from having an unwanted ‘footprint’ on the environment. After all, thousands of school children play on a flat piece of concrete every day. More greenery increases well-being, improves air quality and allows for more absorption of rainwater into the soil.

The underlying didactic play and learning story of St Paul’s provides a fantastic extra. For example, Goede Speelprojecten is the only supplier in the Benelux to have the prestigious sustainability passport of NLGreenlabel.

Concrete transformed

Construction began in July 2019. Thus, in several phases, concrete will be transformed into a green and adventurous playground. “The best moments are each time a piece of the playground is put into use by the children. We have already noticed that it works. That the children are playing in a different way. That there is life in our playground,” said Cedric.