© 2018 All rights reserved BIENENSTOCK NATURAL PLAYGROUNDS
Looking for something more customized to your needs? Do you have an idea specific to your landscape? Give us a shout! We have a team of accomplished designers capable of going the extra mile to cater to your specifications as we design and build an outdoor learning environment that comprehensively addresses your facilities’ requirements.
© 2018 All rights reserved BIENENSTOCK NATURAL PLAYGROUNDS
We were asked to create an outdoor learning space on the roof of an underground parking garage as the final piece of a multi million-dollar effort to rebuild the facilities. Through a robust consultation process involving many students and all of the teaching staff, it became clear that what was missing was a commons full of shade and sensory experiences. We installed natural basal columns combined with slabs of limestone bedrock and heavily planted raised beds. The learning space was transformed, now offering 50% more shade as it quickly became an oasis in the center of the campus.
This is a unique courtyard with an amazing variety of natural materials throughout; stonework, decking, logs and shrubs were all integrated into the environment to re-naturalize the space and offer teachers & students a conducive space to teach and learn.
OWL St. Brigid was part of a genuine collaboration between our team and Owl Childcare. The installation involved two spaces, one for toddlers and one for preschoolers.
The client was passionate about following the research to include an outdoor learning environment with a full sensory experience for every child. Areas for music, water with sand, pockets for creative and dramatic play, and age appropriate gross motor challenges were developed.
A unique collaboration between the early childhood centre, the development fund, the department of childhood education and the horticulture program with Humber Arboretum to redevelop their primary outdoor learning environment. The space serves infants and toddlers and includes gross motor development, sand & creative play, musical instruments, sideways trees and gardening areas. In addition to the diverse play opportunities, this site also has unique topographic change and winter interest.
This toddler outdoor learning space has a gamut of diverse areas for children to practice their gross motor skills that include gentle sloping hills covered in grass, clusters of service berry shrubs that act as living forts, decking on the pathways, and a wooden tunnel to climb through. Our favourite component is the carved wooden log trough with push faucet allowing water play in the sand area. The children have instant water with the push of a button, great for exploration, social skills, language development and sensory play.
The result of a partnership between Alpha founder Catherine Humphreys and Adam Bienenstock . The outdoor learning space is dedicated to her passion for connecting today’s children to nature and developing the sense of wonder that seems to be missing in our urban centres. The design involved four separate learning areas that connect seamlessly between the spaces and age groups for which they were developed. Attention to the finest details of appropriate challenge for all ages—infants, toddlers, preschool and after school—were created in tandem with the pedagogy of the program.
Each area of this playground is sensory rich and engaging. The infant area has an amazing grass hill with the slide just the right size. The toddlers have clusters of Service berry shrubs for convenient snacking. The water feature in the preschool area is fantastic. It starts on the top of a small hill and ends in the sand pit, which makes it ideal for making dams and creating sand sculptures.
Sacred Heart is an Eco-Certified School in Burlington, ON and part of the Halton Catholic School Board. In an effort to create an outdoor learning environment that aligned more closely with their values and approach to education, the school focused on developing a more nature-based play space. The goal was to create a space that allowed them to provide a wider range of sensory experiences and engagement and to create a space that would allow them to extend their classrooms outdoors.
We approached the design of this outdoor space with multiple unique “pods” dedicated to outdoor curriculum, dramatic/imaginative engagement, sand & water / fine-motor-skills and gross-motor development. Care was taken to arrange these pods for seamless flow from one activity to the next. Not only did this increase children’s opportunities to engage with natural elements, but it created visually defined spaces with various behavior settings, ultimately improving the functionality of the space for children and educators.
Fort Erie, Ontario
The Fort Erie Regional Childcare outdoor learning environment was funded by Niagara Child and Family Services. This facility was blessed with large perimeter shrubs and trees, a perfect opportunity to seize the value of the full sensory experience for their children.
The large amorphous sand area has water fed from one of our water troughs and a large stump cluster in the border that retains some of the topographic change that we’ve added to the site.
The centre was not only interested in the mirror panels, black boards, curriculum cabinets, wacky posts, and more that our catalogue offered, they were interested in embracing the pedagogy and practice that these products supported.
In addition to designing and building their space, our team has provided mentorship training with all of the staff as they continue to grow their practice. As a result, they are seeing calmer, more focused children and better outcomes for teachers and staff.
Composed of asphalt and turf, this flat, featureless school yard was in desperate need of an upgrade. Through a comprehensive engagement process, we worked closely with the students, the parent council, and the school board to gather input for the design. This informed the development of a unique design that now ultimately offers an outdoor learning environment and an abundance of sensory engagement/development opportunities.
A climbing boulder, rolling hills, and clusters of stumps give the students exciting places to run, climb, and jump. Quieter seating areas, an amphitheater space, and a dedicated gardening area give teachers places to bring lessons and curriculum outdoors at any time of the school day. Selecting native and hardy plant species, and ensuring the design included vehicle access to the sports field beyond ensured the play space would not increase the school board’s maintenance costs. Densely planted shrubs and trees unify the space, offer shade throughout, and help create a buffer between the outdoor learning environment and Hamilton’s busy Main St that runs parallel to the site.
Located on one of Toronto’s major arteries, all the surfaces of the former outdoor learning space were paved and terraced to remove the slope. The walls of the building acted as amplifiers of the road noise, rendering the space unsuitable for conversation or quiet play. Our new design celebrated the grade change, shifted to rolling and organic topography and surfaces and maximized tree and shrub cover to buffer noise. We built a visually stimulating solid fence of acrylic panels, blackboards, murals and plant material so the children could see the road but not feel as if their space was dominated by the noise. The result was a drop in decibel-levels of 500% and a transformation in the children’s behaviour. Teachers’ job satisfaction, program enrollment and academic performance all skyrocketed.
The trees and shrubs transform the space providing shade, mottled light, fragrant breezes, wildlife engagement and loads of loose parts.
Red Deer, Alberta
The Kerry Wood Nature Centre is situated on traditional first nations land, a sensitive watershed, and bird sanctuary. The facility includes space for a nature-based preschool, with our goal being to create an outdoor learning environment that celebrates the stunning natural features that surrounds the center. Today, the space is fully accessible and features a music sound garden, sand area with water pump and stream, and ample loose parts children can use to construct sand sculptures and water dams. Moreover, the space provides children of all ages with opportunities for engagement and development. There are active, quiet, creative, and sensory opportunities available all in one amazing outdoor space.
St. Catharines, Ontario
This centre is one part child care and one part community housing complex. Parents often spend time at the child care centre with their children. Our team had a very small space to work with, and we needed to design around a large Manitoba Maple. This required a novel approach because we needed to create an outdoor learning space for all ages.
The sand area features a curriculum cabinet that houses all of the sand gear and loose parts; children have the ability to access materials when needed. There is a water stump that allows water to be available on demand. This is perfect for creative/expressive activities; making sand sculptures and mud pies.
Surrounded by a 4-story building and an abundance of paved surfacing, the scale of the space was initially very intimidating. Through careful selection of natural furnishings, plant material and child-scaled environments we were able to “soften” the space and create a more comfortable outdoor education setting for the children. While this space offers an abundance of play opportunities in a small space, it also softens the aesthetic of the interior as children and educators look into the space. The unique relationship between the outdoor and indoor learning environments is truly one-of-a-kind.