In the Wakefield neighborhood of the Bronx, community areas for free play are scarce, making P.S. 16’s schoolyard an invaluable opportunity for children to connect with nature. Inspired by the freedom that comes from wandering meadows and rolling down hills, the removal of Temporary Classroom Units and renovation of P.S. 16’s split level, asphalt schoolyard transcended DOE design norms, transforming a classic schoolyard into a wonderland of challenging obstacles and shady areas that underscore the importance of plant life in combating urban heat. With an emphasis on free play—the most important work of children—the schoolyard cultivates the seeds of imagination, physical strength, language, and social-emotional skills, showing this 98% minority student population there is no limit to how high they can grow.
Schoolyards are as important as classrooms. They are laboratories for discovery and growth, and sometimes the only opportunity for students to connect and learn from the natural world. P.S. 16’s schoolyard is designed to support the whole child. We applied three principles for play that universally support the physical, developmental, and emotional needs of students.
Set the Stage, Inspire Play!
Our design is aimed at muting the endless noise and screens of the city and creating an immersive atmosphere to amplify nature and cultivate a deep concentration that allows for children to get lost in play. The rainbow trail that ascends a zig zag path through the forest leads to the upper playground, stimulating the senses with its changing landform, whimsical use of color, balance of natural materials and surprising elements of sound.
Kids need outdoor space!
Creative movement is proven to enhance learning outcomes, but in small apartments, sidewalks, and subway platforms, most of the time children are being encouraged to do the opposite, making access to open space crucial for their physical and mental health. The variety of open-ended spaces in P.S. 16’s schoolyard addresses these needs. Whether hosting picnics, scientific discoveries, celebrations, or free play, the schoolyard is open to interpretation and designed to be a gateway to infinite imaginary worlds, stimulating the ever-changing mind and body of a child.
Growth comes from pushing ourselves to experience new things. Overcoming challenges requires problem solving, strength building and bravery, which are essential skills for navigating the adult world. The balancing, climbing, and bouncing features of the schoolyard are safe spaces for risk taking and boundary pushing. While children are lost in their play, these obstacles allow for self-discovery and the opportunity to learn about safety and responsibility within the context of their imaginations.
P.S. 16 Wakefield School | Bronx, USA | Grain Collective
Landscape Architect: Grain Collective
Location: P.S. 16 Wakefield School Bronx, New York, USA
Client: NYC School Construction Authority
Image Credits: Grain Collective
Photographers: Runit Chhaya, Ziqing Chen, Viraj Hankare