At Sct. Nicolai School, students are creating the school's new outdoor space
How much can students be involved in deciding what the school playground should look like?
A lot, if you ask Sct. Nicolai School in Køge, where students were responsible for creating the school's new playground together with Elverdal in 2021.
The Democratic Playground is the name of the project, which is based on a strong collaboration between the student working group, student council, teachers, management and school board.
How have pupils worked with the project at school and what have they learned from it? Josefine Christiansen 8.B and Mynte Skovager Sveigaard 5.A talk about the playground project.
Be inspired to involve your students!
We didn't want there to be just one cool thing, while all the other things just stood there.
In the working group, we brought out all the drawings and talked about which ones we liked best. And then we sent them out to year groups across the school.
Headteacher Lotte Wiese Nowack says the playfround project has trained the school's pupils to:
- make decisions
- obtain background knowledge for concrete choices
- ask critical/qualified questions
- have votes in class
It began with Democracy time
The playground project is part of 'Democracy time', a subject created by Sct. Nicolai School itself. This gives students a say in school decisions, and work on the new playground was set up via a dedicated group where the pupil council, school board, teachers and school management all worked closely together. At Elverdal, we got a call from Student Council President Josefine Christiansen from class 8.B, who wanted to know if we could draw up a proposal for the school's new playground for 3-5th years. Two teachers, Lasse Jensen and Dorte Olsen, were part of the student working group. However, Lasse stressed that teachers were clearly underrepresented in the process. They acted mostly as the students' advocates and back up. During our several months of collaboration, it became clear that the students were well equipped to ask informed and critical questions about the playground's design and play features.
Instead of sitting and talking, you can run around the playground .... we get to move. It's just more fun when there's something more to it.
Concept: 3-in-1 course
Sct. Nicolai School wanted to have several types of movement features: parkour, obstacle course, balancing equipment for team exercises and learning games on the ground.
Elverdal's concept for the playground was a 3-in-1 course with several movement sequences along and across. It would allow multiple children to play at the same time with plenty of new challenges to try. And students would also be able to challenge each other to be the first through the course.
- balance beam
- High parkour / climbing apparatus
- climbing poles
- climbing wall
- learning game
- 20-meter running track
Here, children have the opportunity to play both in larger communities and on their own. The course encourages encounters between children who want different things, which requires space and understanding of each other. This trains the democratic dialogue.
As a playground manufacturer, Elverdal has extensive experience of user involvement.
How did you work on the playground project?
Josefine: In the working group, we decided that there should be things that allowed everyone to do something at the same time. That there should be many different ways to use this playground.
Mynte: We didn’t want there to be just one cool thing, while all the other things just stood there. We were very much in agreement about what we wanted to do with it. Also, that it shouldn’t just be for break times. We also needed to be able to do some exercises. What do you call it - just a quick two minutes of fresh air. Instead of just running back and forth, there also had to be something you could do in lessons.
Josefine: We took out all the drawings (from different architects and playground companies, ed.) and talked about which ones we liked best, and then we sent them out to the year groups across the school. Although people had different ideas, we quickly agreed on what we wanted to do with the playground.
Josefine: This playground is for 3rd-5th and 6th years. But we think the older students can join in too. I can just imagine myself in 5th year, running out and playing on that playground.
Mynte: Instead of sitting and talking, you can run around. I don't know how to explain it ... we get to move, it's just more fun when there's something more to it.
Josefine: We explained all this to Jimmi (Elverdal's consultant, ed.) and he really listened to what we said. When we got the drawings, you could see our ideas in the drawings. Everyone was happy and felt that they had been heard.
Mynte: When you’re in year 5, it's not like you're 'going to the playground', but it's still fun. And now that we've had a say, we know what we're getting into.
Imagine if it was only years 9 and 8 who were in charge - they're not the ones who use it the most. I think all the years are happy that they have had a say.
Was there anything that proved difficult along the way?
Josefine: At first, we thought we could put it all in, but we couldn't. Such as fall zones, for example, are important to prevent students from bumping into each other and getting hurt.
Mynte: You think it's just about building it, but there's a lot of planning. You have to know a lot about it. We also had to talk with the others, and we had to find the money for it.
Josefine: Patience. I joined the working group in year seven, and the one who was chair then has left now.
In the working group we came to the conclusion that... there should be many different ways to use this playground.
What have you learned?
Josefine: I've learned how much it actually takes to make a playground. It takes a lot more than I thought: - Getting the drawings out to the year groups, getting feedback, changing small things and talking to the teachers about budget and everything.
The fact that it's being built - it's like winning a victory. You learn to take one thing at a time and it's much more manageable.
We're an urban school, so I definitely get to enjoy the playground when I go out. It's still here. I'm proud of that. You can look back and think - how cool that my school got me involved in that project.
You create joy for others. Just seeing children
play on it makes you really happy.
Mynte: Let's say when I go off to sixth-form college, I can come back and say I did that. Then you can remember what a long process it was, and be proud that you were part of it.
You can also think about how it’s not just you who is happy about it. There are many other people who are happy too.