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Pinehurst School: Activating space, advancing play

Primary schoolers have a lot of energy to burn at break time, with a growing sense of independence, burgeoning confidence in their physicality and a general mindset of ‘don’t fence me in’.

Schools want to encourage such play activity. However, come winter, their ability to offer adequate spaces can be severely compromised as the mud arrives and the fences go up. 

This was particularly true at Pinehurst, the Auckland private school struggling with the grass surfacing getting muddy and consequently having to fence off areas of their playground during winter.

The problem was compounded by the existing layout of the school, where they felt a large area of the play space was underutilised and ill-suited to the needs of the Year 1 to Year 4 students.

Creo was brought in to find a solution for the busy school.

Besides the obvious changes, the brief called for the retaining of existing trees and an overall natural feel to the landscape. Pinehurst also needed a clean and functional all-weather space that could be used throughout the year.

Understanding how the space worked as both individual parts and a greater whole was vital. Creo’s first focus was on designating different zones that would work for different play areas.

This approach worked well when establishing how the different spaces would affect the moods of the students. Away from the main area the calmer and more relaxed spaces were situated in a somewhat hidden opening within the trees. These peaceful spaces were ideal for different seating options, the decking, rubber surfacing and balance steppers making them the perfect place for eating, reading or, in the summer, a relaxed outdoor classroom setting.

The more robust and adventurous play zones closer to the playground equipment were designed for high-intensity play. Here, turf and rubber surfacing provided the hardwearing, take-the-knocks underfoot support for all the leaps and bounds of the children. Stoking this sense of action and adventure, there are now additional circle ground paintings and a maze – the colour and patterns creating the potential for both playful tag and informal play.

Connecting these zones are various play elements designed to direct traffic and help with the overall flow to and through the playground. Looping tracks wind throughout the space to ensure small feet follow convenient paths and, in doing so, reduce wear and tear on any natural lawn areas.

Natural logs and steppers lead children through the spaces and other structures, tepees and tables, help stoke the sense of camping in place. A music wall has also been added for students to explore rhythm and melody.

Sian Coxon, the principal of Pinehurst School, was thrilled with the number of positive outcomes from the playground development, particularly as the school is “now using it for learning as well as play”.

She said: “We are absolutely loving the space you have created for us… It has been really interesting to see the effect on our children and our staff actually like doing duty there now!”

The finished outdoor school environment is a durable, adaptable, and wholly functional space that is ideal for year-round use. Pinehurst School has torn down the fences and invested in a landscape to help shape the bodies and minds of its students for generations to come.



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