Space to play in the school playground


Zoneparc concept promotes playing together and social integration

Who doesn't remember their old school playground? Running outside as fast as possible every break to claim a space. Playing football, tag and skipping with a rope until the bell rings again. These are happy memories, but what about the yard itself? Grey cobbles from the bike shed to the school door and maybe a climbing frame if you were lucky. A world apart from the new Zoneparc at St. Henricus School in Amsterdam, with its bright colours and patterns on the ground, seats for sitting and chatting, an athletics track, a proper street football pitch, basketball and a huge KOMPAN funky elements play apparatus in the middle of the yard for climbing, sliding, scrambling and whatever else. There is simply too much to do for a play area, but fortunately the Zoneparc remains open after school.

St. Henricus School is one of four locations where the Zoneparc Foundation of the Netherlands (ZPFN) is currently trialling this new concept for school playgrounds. According to project leader Sanne Nuijten, the principle is very simple: "A Zoneparc is a primary school playground that is divided into three zones, each with its own colour. The red zone for sport, including football, basketball and even an athletics track. The blue is the multi-activity zone with all sorts of games and coloured markings. The yellow zone is what we call the chill-out zone, where you can sit quietly with friends. An orange centre line connects all of the activities, and other games can also be played on that centre line."

Clearly delineated zones

The Zoneparc concept is a NIKE initiative and comes from the UK, where over 320 of these playgrounds have been built since 2001. Ms Nuijten explains that it all began to tackle bullying and fighting in the playground. "On school playgrounds you often see children fighting for their place, as it were. Boys want to play football and take over the entire playground, leaving very little room for the girls. Or there are various groups who all want to play in the same place, and there isn't enough space for that. At the Zoneparc it's completely different. The zones are clearly delineated and everyone can find their own spot. Want to play football? You can do so within the lines of the pitch. You can chat in the Chill zone and play other games in the blue zone. There is enough space for everyone."

In the Zoneparc, coloured surfaces and designs mark the spot for all sorts of sports and games. Basketball, clock watching, hop scotch, ball throwing, cycling - the list goes on. The rules for play are listed in a special manual the primary school receives with the delivery of each Zoneparc. But the zones are designed in such a way that you can invent all sorts of new games of your own.

Fun and educational

As much fun as the playground appears, the objectives of the Zoneparc are serious: an increase in social integration of children in a disadvantaged situation, more participation by girls in movement and sport, less bullying and more physical activity. In the Netherlands the focus is mainly on primary schools dealing with disadvantaged situations or located in busy city centres, where space for play is scarce. According to Sanne, Zoneparc is a huge benefit to precisely these schools. "At the Zoneparc there is a great deal of space for physical activity in the form of sport and play. But you can also integrate all types of play in the educational programme. On the playground at St. Henricus, for example, we created a large clock where you can show the time with your arms. There's also an ABC game where you can learn all about the alphabet. The figures in the blue zone are made in such a way that you can do anything you want, and with a little imagination you can play the most wonderful games."

"Zoneparc heroes"

A key role has been set aside for the so-called Zoneparc heroes. These are students from year 8 who, following special training, help to supervise the playground. They hand out materials that belong to the Zoneparc as standard, such as football goals, counters and basketballs. But they also help the little ones on the climbing frame if necessary. According to Sanne it is these "heroes" who make the Zoneparc what it is. "In fact they do everything on the playground and in doing so, they relieve the teachers and classroom assistants of a lot of work. This gives them more time to pay personal attention to the children and, as a result, there is much more supervision on the playground. The heroes take their work very seriously. They warn children who do not obey the rules and, if necessary, even hand out punishments, such as not being allowed out to play at the next break. The children really look up to the heroes, and the best thing is that they can also become heroes themselves, as each year the heroes for that year train their own successors.

Training for everyone involved

Naturally it is not just the students in year 8 who are responsible for what goes on during the break. Sanne and her team train everyone who is involved with the Zoneparc. "For example the classroom assistants become Zoneparc School Coaches and, together with the heroes, they manage events on the playground. The same applies to After Hours Coaches, who keep an eye on things when the Zoneparc remains open outside school hours. And naturally there are always the teachers, who need to know all about the Zoneparc. Much of this information is contained in a special manual the schools receive. Examples would be Zoneparc management, maintenance and supervision. But we also a provide a booklet that describes all the markings and contains ideas and tips for all sorts of games, educational activities and the use of the materials. In the future we would like to introduce an online version, where people can chat and exchange ideas."

Support from KOMPAN

It is clear that a concept such as Zoneparc is not possible without financial support from government and the private sector. In the Netherlands, KOMPAN is one of the parties, in addition to initiative-taker NIKE, that contribute. This is natural enough, as play and development are core values in the KOMPAN philosophy, and this concept fits in well with that. In the case of St. Henricus School, the KOMPAN Play Institute in Zaltbommel was happy to support the design of the playground and of course there is the huge Funky Elements eye-catcher in the centre of the Zoneparc.

According to Ms Nuijten, even the Dutch government is picking up on this idea, "because the Zoneparc is more than just a playground. It is a means of allowing children to play and move together during breaks, but also outside of school hours, making the Zoneparc accessible to all children in the neighbourhood and their parents, with all of the resulting positive effects." In any case, she is encouraged by the results already visible in Amsterdam, and experience from the UK, where Zoneparc appears to have been a huge success: much less fighting and bullying on the school playground, children are more peaceful and concentrate better at the beginning of lessons following a break, and there is more movement and playing pleasure for each child. And that is precisely what we mean by "Playful Living".


Facts & Figures
Location: Amsterdam, Netherlands