by Eric Higbee, ASLA, Jason Medeiros, and Leon Smith
Education and Creativity at Hawthorne Elementary’s STEAM Playspace
Part 3: Design, Implementation, and Lessons Learned
Welcome to Part 3 of “Loosening Up,” the story of transforming Hawthorne Elementary’s asphalt schoolyard into a community-curated, nature-based, loose parts playground. Our first post focused on our student and community engagement process, and our second post focused on navigating bureaucratic resistance to loose parts and nature play. In this third installment, we cover the final design, implementation, and lessons learned.
The Design and the Build
Community engagement and negotiation with the School District produced a vision for Hawthorne’s playspace that weaves a tapestry of loose-parts play, native plants, stormwater capture, learning gardens, an outdoor classroom, and creative play.
A first phase was built in 2019, including natural spaces, a creative play area, and a bioretention swale. A second phase, completed in 2020, expanded the creative play area and replaced aging playground equipment. As of June 2022, the third phase and completion of the vision is still waiting to be fulfilled.
The loose parts and creative play area is a focal point of the playground. Set amongst groups of native plants and trees, the space holds a collection of moveable stumps, logs, and “cookies” for kids to move, stack, manipulate, and more. To our knowledge, this is one of the only contemporary public schools in the U.S. to embrace loose parts as an intentional part of its playground design.