Some mornings you get into work, drink your coffee, check your emails and start in on the day’s deadlines.
Other mornings, like this chilly January morning, you get to become a kid again. I took my site plans, camera and a spirited kindergarten class to Gates + Associates’s recently opened Murray Elementary School Kindergarten Playground in Dublin, California and found myself 5 years old again.
At first arrival to the site, I admired the bright colors in the paving, vegetable garden planter beds, custom panel fencing at the entrance, the meandering decomposed granite pathways, simple bollards edging the drop off area and bioswales with natural boulders and grasses. But it wasn’t until I saw it through the children’s perspective that this well-landscaped space become some place magical.
The bell sounded and kids were racing, despite the ‘no running’ warning call, to the structures and quickly filled every corner of the space. The spinner swirled, the slide whooshed, the see-saw tilted and the monkey bars were grabbed. A group of girls huddled on a nearby seatwall to discuss the “no boys allowed” during hot lava rule. All of it was pretty standard play, I felt confident I could keep up with these kiddos.
Until the trikes were released.
The trikes came out of the storage closet and were parked in the assigned parking stalls marked in the paving patterns. (Yes, there is even a handicap parking spot marked with appropriate signage for those of you that were concerned about accessibility.) Children fell in line behind a stop sign and anxiously awaited their turn. The line was conveniently located near the gas station so the vehicles could be refilled before the next loop around the course, complete with Bio Diesel Gas options. I was last in line because I was ‘too slow’, as someone nicely pointed out, but it was to my advantage, because it gave me a chance to learn the ways of the track. (So, ha!)
I watched as each child peddled the loop around the structure, stopping at yield signs, slowing in the ‘school zone’ and obeying the rotating traffic signals being managed by other children. I learned quickly, it pays to be nice to the children in charge of the rotating signal or you can be waiting very long time. I also learned that going above the speed limit of 5 MPH is taken very seriously, but I got off with a warning because it was my first offense.
Most importantly I re-learned how much an outdoor space can be programmed for imagination play. The designers I get to work with every day truly understand how to take a limited budget, site constraints, different perspectives, tight timeline and get a design that the facility, parents and students rave about – and this one even got installed a month early!
PS – it has been noted that many teachers have been sited on the spinner after hours. Playgrounds aren’t just for children and kooky photographers my friends.