Conventional playgrounds consist of fabricated materials, mostly metal and plastic, fused together in intricate structures that invite play and adventure. A departure from the “post and platform” standard is the natural playscape, an organic environment of natural trees, shrubs, sand, climbing terrains, and other elements that invite curiosity, wonder, and of course, imaginative play. It’s an idea that’s being put into play at Englefeld School, and mining giant and benefactor BHP was on hand to support the venture with a $50,000 donation. 

The idea originated with the “Our School” survey which invites students, parents and staff to participate in a questionnaire that drives school practices. It was that survey which led to some key renovations in the school including a cozy, inviting commons area for students at the main entrance. The interior gathering space was one of the asks from students, along with some kind of play environment on the school property. 

Along with teacher and playscape proponent Merrissa Karmak, Principal Corinne Harcourt took the suggestion and ran with it.

“Merrissa and I looked at possibly funding a bit of this through grants, and we got our first one in 2019,” Harcourt explains. She goes on to talk about the importance of the BHP contribution. “This is just a tremendous addition to our fundraising, and hopefully we’ve got the end a little nearer in sight now.”

Principal Corporate Affairs for BHP Ann Paton returned to her alma mater to present the cheque at the school. Paton expressed her pleasure returning to her one-time school for a project that will allow a unique and accessible play experience for youngsters.  

“It’s important that our donation helps to make the playground accessible to all children. At BHP, our purpose is to bring people and resources together to build a better world. At the Jansen Project, we’re building the mine with inclusion and diversity in mind, and doesn’t that start on the playground?’

For her part, Merrissa Karmak’s studies helped her grasp the importance of outdoor play in childhood development. The importance extends into the middle years and high school years as well, she says.

“Together, we came up with the idea of trying something different, and I was glad that the School Community Council was super supportive of trying something else.”

From the students’ input and her own background, Karmak set about committing a design to paper that would encompass a variety of layers to the vision. The multi-use space will be open to the community for use outside school times, and its appeal will be broad enough to entice all ages. 

“It’s important that all of our kids can enjoy it regardless of their physical, cognitive, and emotional abilities. Sometimes a “post and platform” playground isn’t as accessible and engaging for older students as well. This kind of space allows for play and learning for all of our students.”

The project starts with a blank canvas of flat prairie, so the earth works are the first mission. Creating a terrain with some hills and varied elevations is no easy task, so the school will be looking for support of landscape specialists and experts in indigenous trees and flora to help. The area may also contain an outdoor classroom to support teaching curriculum in Outdoor and Wildlife Studies and Horticulture. 

The loose parts components of the playground are housed in sheds built by the Practical and Applied Arts students in nearby Watson. The varied elements will come together in an imagination scape, rife with natural wonders and manipulable objects and materials. Even taste and smell are engaged with an edible forest component including natural foods such as haskap and apples. 

From start to its intended finish, the playscape has been a ground-up venture with students, staff, SCC members all providing a wealth of ideas. Now thanks to BHP’s $50,000 contribution, that natural wonderland is a little closer on the horizon.

To find out more and to contribute, simply contact Englefeld School.