Research shows that play areas can stimulate a child’s creative growth. St. Clare Primary School Gżira now has a new, outdoor learning space to help its school yard encourage more play and creative expression. A cubic structure inspired by the ideas of Dutch architect Aldo van Eyck offers various opportunities for kids to play, create and learn. This installation is part of the project ‘School Playscapes - Innovative Learning Approaches Through Play’ which was funded through Arts Council Malta’s Arts Education Scheme. This project is part of a larger-scale H2020 EU-funded project called VARCITIES for which the University of Malta team is leading the Gżira pilot interventions, and is supported by the Gzira Local Council.
The final structure is the culmination of activities which engaged school children in creative and playful participatory workshops. Data was collected during these workshops to identify the needs and ideas of children, teachers and parents, which were then integrated in the design of the school playscape. The result is an outdoor mixed-use structure which was conceptualised and designed with the support of artist Laura Besançon, who has done extensive research on play spaces and their benefits, Tom van Malderen who designed the outdoor furniture, together with Kurt Calleja, Emma Clarke, Dr Edward Duca, Dr Ing. Daniel Micallef, Antoine Gatt and Daniela Quacinella who are part of the University of Malta team. More greening interventions will be carried out at the school until the end of the VARCITIES implementation phase.
The cube, which is the first intervention within the inner school yard, is of an open nature, allowing the students to use it in many different ways. Moreover, its modular concept enables the students and teachers to modify the structure over time, and claim it as their own. Furthermore, it provides a blank canvas for the school children to play and explore their environment in new ways. Instead of using structures that predefine how children should learn or play, this minimalistic design offers opportunities for diverse activities and can be interacted with in multiple ways. The main affordance of the structure is outdoor learning as it has an integrated blackboard for writing and drawing and a room-like classroom extension which facilitates educational activities. Its modular composition makes playing and greening possible and aims to stimulate creative learning in both educators and learners by allowing multiple purposes.
In February, a day of activities was organised to introduce the new mixed-use structure. Starting with an opening speech by Dr Nikki Petroni, a representative from Arts Council Malta, and Mr Conrad Borg Manche, the Gżira mayor, who were speaking and interacting with the school children. The inauguration proceeded with activities for all students. These included co-implementation workshops in and around the structure, which involved teachers and students, in order for them to discover the new structure and its concept, and make it their own. Students also participated in propagation stations, mixed media workshops from reclaimed and upcycled materials, and scientific experiments which brought the cubic structure to life and showcased its potential.
The School Playscapes project was funded through the Arts Education Scheme by the Arts Council Malta. It is implemented in collaboration with the Horizon 2020 funded VARCITIES project. VARCITIES aims to implement real, visionary ideas, adding value by establishing sustainable models for increasing the health and well-being of citizens who are exposed to diverse climatic conditions and challenges in and around Europe. From ten countries, 25 institutions are involved, including the University of Malta.
This project is supported by Arts Council Malta.
VARCITIES has received funding from the European Union’s Horizon 2020 Research and Innovation programme under Grant Agreement No. 869505