middle school outdoor learning: our partnership with the colorado health foundation

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our partnership with the Colorado Health Foundation (the Foundation) has just begun and we are already learning so much! when it comes to school playground guidelines and best practices manuals, there is an abundance of information to be found regarding elementary schools and high schools. yet there is little to no information about middle schools and how to appropriately design playgrounds and outdoor learning environments specifically for this group of youth. we have yet to discover why exactly that is, but what we do know is that middle schoolers are a very complex group of individuals that crave challenge, social stimulation, acceptance, and reassurance from both peers and elders.

our primary objective for working with the Foundation is to improve the health and physical activity of middle schoolers through outdoor learning and play environments. middle school youth are often an underserved and overlooked population of students which is exactly why we have chosen to focus our work on improving play environments for them. studies have shown that healthier students are better learners and that the key to a healthier lifestyle is physical activity. middle school youth between the ages of 11-14 often fall in-between the developmental stages and physical abilities of elementary students ages 5-11 and high schools students ages 14-17. elementary age specific play often focusses on fundamental development skills like balance, climbing, and conquering fears (ie. height, fast speeds, etc.). high school age "play" is less formal and typically does not emphasize play equipment but rather encourages team play through group sports to encourage developmental growth in team building and sportsmanship skills. but what happens in-between - what are the developmental stages between learning to balance and team building? 

over the next 18 months, we plan to discover just that. the Colorado Health Foundation has contracted us to help with the grant writing and evaluation process for a new middle school outdoor learning environments grant. after we have completed the grant we will work with the Foundation to help select 3-4 recipients to receive funding for the planning, design, and construction of age specific learning and play environments. we are excited for the next few months of writing, evaluation, and ultimately working with recipients to design playscapes that are designed specifically for middle school youth. 

Maggie Fryke