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Five months after the playground was completed two Abracadabra preschoolers drew their impressions of the Outdoor Classroom. Here are two artistic views of the "Outdoor Classroom" from a “user’s" perspective.

ARTIST: Jessica Hirshh-Mayall

Before and After
by Artist Harry Sprinkle

EDITORS NOTE ON HARRY'S PICTURE: The large green structure is Baptist Temple Church. In the "before" drawing notice the dominance of the playscape in the playground. In the “after” drawing the “speedway” track is visible with “things to do” inside the track and two children playing. Wonderful, isn’t it. And that’s just how it is. Come visit some time.

Kathy Wilson
Statement before the Alexandria Planning Commission
October 7, 2003

(Slightly edited for length-Actual Pictures added )

Hello, my name is Kathy Wilson, and I am the Director of Abracadabra.

(Kathy at dedication of "Outdoor Classroom" - May 2005)

I’m going to talk to you about this playground proposal in a funny way be telling you about the current state of school grounds, playgrounds, everywhere, for children—for students—of every age. And this playground is…well, what almost all others are not.

Simply put: school grounds and playgrounds are universally under programmed for education. That’s because the outdoor environment is not considered a part of the total learning environment. (Emphasis added)

While the school building itself is scrutinized and designed to promote better teaching-learning, school grounds are usually programmed independently with little consideration for the ways that indoor and outdoor places could complement each other.

Little consideration is ever given to ways that school grounds could expand and better meet the physical and intellectual, creative, emotional and social needs of the growing child.

(Architectural Drawing of "Outdoor Classroom")

It is a rare primary school, particularly in the public sector, that offers its children anything out-of-doors but large numbers of other children, a small amount of equipment including a few balls and jump ropes, and incredibly inadequate supervision or facilitation by adults.

Manufactured play stations have changed—even improved somewhat—from the old play areas once scattered with isolated pieces of equipment that supported only one type of play activity, limited aspects of play and developmental skills.
Many of these new multi-functional play equipment composite structures (more than one piece linked together)

are better designed to accommodate the physical needs and size of the age group being served: they even have improved features to foster greater social interaction and cooperation. In the end however, they support only limited aspects of play and developmental skills.

The dominance of these composite structures in playgrounds has led to static environments, to what I like to characterize as “one-way play” in that they have no possibility of variation day after day.

Manufactured Play Stations - Examples of "One-Way-Play"

Overall, playgrounds are devoid of creative and imaginative opportunities for children to build and tear down with elements, to dig and pile sand and earth or to explore with water. With this hands-off attitude to the play/learning environment, children are not encouraged to become creative shapers and stewards of their environment.

Despite wide regional differences of climate and site, school grounds across this state and every state suffer from a generic blandness in appearance. School designs do not take advantage of a site’s natural assets or capitalize on the unique qualities it offers. Rather than working to preserve their existing qualities, school sites are leveled and engineered into flat, open expanses of parking lots and ball fields.

There is a notable lack of natural land features and plants. Wherever you are, playgrounds have the same formulaic arrangements of manufactured play equipment composite structures.

But not this one.

No unattractive mammoth play station on this playground.
It will have a wooden playhouse with pots, pans, pails, shovels, spoons, and dress-up clothes,

it will have an outdoor sand and water table with containers for filling and pouring,

It will have sticks, leaves, grasses, flowers and insects,

it will have wheel toys—wheelbarrows, trikes and wagons,

and a trike track that snakes around the inside perimeter of the playground 3 and leads to everything,

trees to sit under and a huge bush to (perhaps) hide in,

flower and vegetable gardens that the children will have planted,

a large grassy area

with single-spring rocking toys where children can perch and observe

and a picnic table and chairs where children can socialize.

It will have a climbing playscape,

it will have outdoor easels,

it will have a dirt digging area,

it will have many things at hand to be moved, built with and rearranged,

and it will have teachers to provide the supervision and interaction needed to facilitate the use of these items.

Our playground is designed around the seven zones of the ideal playground as elaborated in An Outdoor Classroom (Esbensen, 1980).

The seven zones are:
1. The Transition zone
2. The Manipulative/Creative Zone
3. The Projective/Fantasy zone
4. The Focal/Social zone
5. The Social/Dramatic zone
6. The Physical zone
7. The Natural Element zone

Zoning is helpful as a way of conceptualizing the possibilities; it is also valuable for its inclusiveness—getting us to think broadly about everything a playground can be for children.

Our playground will promote active play, adventure play, quiet learning and quiet play and nature.

Adventure play, which is the one most linked to cognitive development is – sadly – the one least provided for. This is a most worthy proposal and I ask for your acceptance of the staff recommendation for approval.

Dedication Ceremony With Mayor Bill Eulle and members of the School Board
Kathy is dressed in Pink!

Thank you.

EDITOR'S NOTE: Kathy had a few run-ins with “City Hall” on building this magnificent educational classroom. You might find this hard to believe, but the following story is true: Kathy submitted her plans for this first-of-its-kind “Outdoor Classroom” playground and the City staff came back to her and “approved” a playground SMALLER than the old traditional playground Kathy’s new classroom eventually replaced.

To say that Kathy was livid was putting it mildly. After a “Kathy Re-adjustment Session” the Planning Staff approved the plans she had submitted with minor changes.

(Wouldn’t you have LOVED to have been a yellow butterfly floating by when Kathy confronted the poor city bureaucrat who first told her the new "Outdoor Classroom" needed to be smaller than the play area she was replacing!)

Comments and Photo Gallery
Kathy Wilson’s Outdoor Classroom

The First In the World

Without Children

A few observations:

1. Kathy deployed 3 picnic tables in the Outdoor Classroom. She considered these critical for socialization development.

2. Notice the spring loaded “turtle” in blue. She felt it was important there was a place a child could go and “play” by themselves. This “turtle” allows the shy child to play and watch what activity and group they want to join. The picnic table in the center of the “Classroom” served the same purpose.

3. Notice the surface of the “race track.” Kathy found one supplier in Texas (who she flew in) to create a special surface that met state and local safety guidelines. Under NO circumstances did she want children to be in helmets on their trike. She wanted them to experience the true joy of unrestricted outdoor play.

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