The Architecture of Recess

by JC Boushh

Architect Gerald Reifert, who specializes in school design, writes in the Daily Journal of Commerce that early childhood outdoor environments need several key design elements. They need areas to test their limits, areas that create comfort, areas for developing competency, and areas for learning self-control, and exposure to nature. Each one of these design elements plays an optimal role in creating not only a great outdoor play environment, but also a developmentally appropriate outdoor learning environment.

Several of these design elements relate to children’s motor development specifically areas to test their limits and areas to develop competency. Play area game markings allow children to practice such skills as peer to peer interaction, self-regulation, gross motor skills, and conflict resolution. Games that allow children to socially interact during free-play time helps fine tune children’s abilities to interact, solve problems, and develop important socials skills that will later translate into adult social skills.

Reifert states; “The earlier a brain is exposed to a variety of positive experiences the more malleable it seems to be when shaping its responses to external factors. One neuroscientist likens this early exposure to setting a thermostat with a wide operating range of situations that will arise in future.” Providing children with numerous experiences help make vital neural connections and strengthens existing neural pathways. Playgrounds, natural landscapes, loose parts, and game markings allow children numerous opportunities for learning and engagement during outdoor free-play, and important design elements for developing children’s social, physical, cognitive, and emotional well-being.