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Ridley’s Unique Playscape Supports Physical Literacy Goals

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Ridley’s all-natural playscape, which officially opened in late 2015, is at the forefront of physical literacy promotion by encouraging creative play, risky behaviours and fundamental movement skills, prescribed in Sport Canada’s Long Term Athlete Development (LTAD) plan.

The concept of physical literacy came to Ridley College through Brock University and Dr. James Mandigo and it has long been promoted by Sport Canada and Sport for Life. Physical literacy is the mastering of fundamental movement skills, such as running, skipping, jumping and throwing. In practice, varying sets of skills are introduced to children at appropriate ages and stages of development. For years, Ridley has drawn upon leading physiological and psychological research on the topic to promote physical literacy; which is also pivotal in mental and social development.

Since this model was introduced at Ridley, our competitive sports programmes have experienced phenomenal success, while Lower School physical literacy programmes have been implemented to improve overall fitness, health and well-being through increased active play. This paradigm helps students develop a lasting relationship with physical activity and better prepares student athletes for successful long term athletic careers. Active play, of which our younger students enjoy three times a day for 20 minutes, has also been linked to notable cognitive function and development.

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The all-natural playscape – which was a part of the 2014-2015 annual giving campaign – is a very tangible example of how Ridley is maintaining its leading edge on physical literacy promotion in independent schools. The idea for the playscape was born from students’ International Baccalaureate Primary Years Programme (PYP) Exhibition projects and Ridley decided that a unique, topographical landscape with obscure apparatuses would be the ideal way to encourage active play and reach school-wide physical literacy goals. The playscape creates a far more engaging and creative experience than the traditional, manufactured playgrounds and also enacts our objective to be more environmentally conscious.

“Our challenge was to create a Lower School playground that encouraged more open-ended and creative play, while at the same time, promoting a connection with nature.”

– Mrs. Hanna Kidd

Bienenstock Natural Playgrounds, a Canadian playground designer and builder, brought forward the perfect solution – a playground constructed of all-natural elements, that could be designed to fit the needs of the students. Founded in 1982 by Adam Bienenstock, Bienenstock Natural Playgrounds aims to bring nature back into the lives of children, so that they can develop an appreciation for the environment, while engaging in active play.

“Over time, somehow what we thought was fun disappeared from kids’ lives. Their roam rates dropped right down, their world got smaller and their screens got bigger, and the need for this [type of playscape] grew.”

– Mr. Adam Bienenstock, CEO and Founder of Bienenstock Natural Playgrounds

It was clear that Bienenstock’s values aligned with Ridley’s, and the common goal of educating students on the importance of environmental conservation made for the perfect fit. After consulting with Bienenstock and receiving input from Ridley’s faculty, staff and students, the Playscape construction officially begun. Ridley was able to select playground elements that would challenge the students, encourage curiosity and creative thinking and be utilized at each age and stage of development.

The Playscape officially opened in December of 2015, but has since grown and has already become the perfect place for students to have fun, get active and even relax. It currently includes a number of large elements, such as a tree fort with a rope bridge, a rock climbing wall, a multipurpose amphitheater (outdoor classroom) and gaga ball court, tunnels, log clusters, a barrel swing, a willow dome and a sand area that includes a water feature and slides. As time passes, Ridley hopes to add several new elements, while the current elements continue to grow and evolve.

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According to Lower School faculty, instances of playground conflict have dramatically decreased with the opening of the new Playscape and the Athletics Department has already observed instances of creative play, risky behaviours and fundamental movement skills – elements that are viewed as positive markers in physical literacy studies.

The Playscape offers the perfect place for our younger students to have daily physical activity, while exploring movement and improving their social and emotional well-being. “The natural playscape will continue to help our students develop an appreciation, curiosity and respect for their world, leading to better physical and mental health.” – Mrs. Hanna Kidd

This Playscape was made possible with the support of generous donors. It is with this continued support that will Ridley be able to grow our school’s arts, academics and athletics programmes, and continue to provide students with the opportunities and tools necessary to live flourishing lives.