They had a dream.
In less than five years, the dream became a vision, then a strategic plan, then a reality. Now, OMS Montessori is home to an award-winning natural playground.
“Since our students have started playing in our natural playground, they seem happier”, said Pat Garneau, Director of the English Program at OMS Montessori. “Students complain less about being “bored” and there is also less conflict, perhaps because there are fewer rules and the children have an outlet for their physical energy.”
The dream of a natural playground for OMS Montessori, an independent school in the Alta Vista area, was voiced in 2009 at an OMS Strategic Planning meeting.. Shortly after, the OMS Board of Directors made a commitment to create a beautiful 'green' playground. The goal was to have an outdoor environment in which OMS students would be free to explore, create, and grow in a way that would help them make deeper connections to nature and to themselves.
According to a 2012 University of Tennessee study, children who play on playgrounds that incorporate natural elements tend to be more active than those who play on traditional playgrounds with plastic equipment.
“When children play with nature, they’re less bored, more imaginative and more creative,” said Pat. “Children are sensorial learners. They use all of their senses when playing in nature which is optimal for learning.”
The OMS Board wanted the new playground to be a school community project, so they consulted teachers, students and parents. They also held a “Planting Bee” in September 2013, where the school community gathered on a weekend to plant the many flowers and shrubs that make up an integral part of the natural playground.
Months after the Planting Bee, an OMS parent wrote on the school’s Facebook page: “On the way into school this morning (in freezing January), the kids were asking when they would be able to "plant more flowers at school". They love it!”
In January, OMS’ natural playground, built by Earthscape, was awarded a Landscape Ontario Award of Excellence in the "Special Interest Construction" project category. Laura Hilliard, the Communications Coordinator for Earthscape, said the playground is unique because it was designed specifically for the OMS site and it offers areas for multiple levels of active and passive play, and for water play as well as natural features like hills and plants.
“We believe this kind of playground offers endless possibilities for creative and unstructured play,” said Laura. “By using natural materials, kids can see the craftsmanship involved in creating each piece and use all of their senses to explore and learn about the world.”
The OMS award-winning playground aligns with the values of Montessori pedagogy and the longevity of a natural playground exceeds that of the more traditional play structures. The OMS community is looking forward to years of natural play!