At Creo, we see many schools who have ended up with odd spaces between, behind, and beside buildings after years of ad hoc property decisions. These areas are often hard to utilise and provide little or no value to the school… well, that’s one way of looking at them. Another way to see them is for what they really are: opportunities to think outside the square and come up with creative ways to activate the space!
Taking on the activation of underutilised spaces at your school won’t substitute for a school masterplan or school playground design, but it can lead to some quick (and affordable) wins. This, in turn, will lead to a growing sense of ownership, achievement, and pride in your school from your students, staff, and community. Simple ideas go a long way and to help you get started, we’ve listed 10 such options below (or to get the full guide: “25 ways to activate underutilised space in your school” – click here). These ideas cover many of the typical areas we see that once transformed, can change an underutilised space into a favourite playspace.
1. Rock Climbing Wall
Adding bolt-on climbing holds to a concrete wall turns otherwise unused space into a fun climbing challenge for your students. Keep in mind that you’ll need safety surfacing for climbing walls where the fall height is greater than 600mm, but you can set up the grips so that students climb along rather than up.
2. Plants (Green Wall)
Planting vertically is not only a great way to improve the aesthetic of bare walls, but also a great way to get your students in thinking about the environment and participating in the planting. No need for expensive systems; your green wall can be constructed from inexpensive timber and recycled plastic bottles. Plants can even be shaped for added interest or be part of a mural. For example, you might be able to use the plant to form cascading hair from a person.
3. Music Wall
Introduce your students to the elements of music with your very own music wall. Percussive elements such as old pots and pans, chimes, and xylophones provide the opportunity for students to explore rhythm and melody.
4. Ground Mazes
Mazes are a great way for students to test and develop spatial cognitive mapping skills… and they’re a lot of fun. They are also a good place for students to develop their own challenging ‘tag’ games.
5. Painted Scooter Track
Kids love to ride scooters and bikes on painted tracks. Not only can they be introduced to provide loads of entertainment, but they can be used to help young children familiarize themselves with the road rules they will use on public roads.
Fixed & Moveable Structures
6. Add a Raised Planter
If your space has good sunlight, it could make the perfect small garden. With some basic tools and materials (timber, nails, hammer, saw), you can create a raised garden bed that your students can plant and if you have a wide capping this can double as a seating area or as a divider between spaces.
7. Logs and Nature Play
Natural elements such as logs and rocks can be added to your grassy space to provide balance play and seating options. Items under 600mm don’t need fall surfaces if they have 1.5m of clear space around them. A large log can provide a great seating/balancing item. You might have a tree on site that need to be cut down or a contact with a local arborist. Over time, these natural elements will become home to insects, providing another source of learning opportunity.
8. Butterfly Gardens
A butterfly garden does take some work and time, but once it’s established, your students will delight in watching butterflies while they bask in the sun and visit the flowers. To get it started, choose a sheltered spot and add some flat rocks, a container for water (such as a birdbath), and some butterfly-attracting flowers such as asclepias (swan plant), agastache rugosa, or coreopsis tinctoria.
9. Add a Trail
If you have a larger planted space, you can cut a path into it to create a trail. Use stone or log steppers to add challenge and fun or decorate with student artworks such as mosaics and sculptures.
10. Bird Feeders
Bird feeders are great for attracting all sorts of birds into your school and providing another great learning opportunity for your students. Remember that different types of food attract different types of birds, so check the Land Care Research website for a list of suitable foods before serving your avian visitors.