Carnegie Mellon University


Children working together to move a tireWhen a child enters the Children’s School Playground, they enter a world where their imaginations can take flight. Personal interests shine, as the children dive into play, organizing and creating games, becoming characters, building, riding bikes, and more. Often knowledge from our thematic units spills over into playground play, influencing what the children build, make, and create. From the Mud Kitchen, where a child might make soup from his “Food Truck” and stirs up Lemonade from her “Lemonade stand”, to the Imagination Playground, where we see creations of houses, ice cream stands, and boats sailing out to sea, the children are in constant creation. This type of play carries over into the Sand Box, where the digging and moving of sand becomes a story in itself. The Water Table provides an area where the children explore pouring and shifting water, how water flows, how things float, and more. While on the playground, the children also carry out large motor activity. The Log Balance Beams and Tree Cookies provide the opportunity to test their balance skills, while the large Bike Path helps provide a smooth and consistent surface to develop bike riding skills. The Climbing Dome allows the children to use not only their imaginations, but provides a place for problem solving while discovering how to reach the top. While playing on the Children's School Playground, the children are provided with rich opportunities to grow, learn, and develop as an individual and in friendships.

Outdoor Blocks

Children playing with outdoor blocks

Blocks are perhaps the most recognizable plaything in an early childhood classroom and they have earned that distinction because of the many ways they contribute to a child's growth. On The Children’s School playground, you will find a pavilion filled with two sets of large blocks that are about as different from each other as can be. The first set, the Imagination Playground, consists of soft, blue, foam blocks. The second set from Constructive Playthings contains hard, naturally-colored, wooden blocks. Each can be used in a variety of ways and the possibilities are limited only by the children’s imaginations!

Building on the playground allows for a few more variables to enter the learning equation. The outdoor learning environment is a mixed-age space and children have to learn how to work and play with children older and younger than themselves. The space is big and the children can use their whole bodies and minds to explore the space, the materials, and how they are navigating their social and natural worlds. They test and expand their limits and discover what is safe and what they should pay attention to. And as the children build and their structures grow, so too does their confidence in themselves!

Mud Kitchen

Children playing in the mud kitchen

The playground Mud Kitchen provides a wide variety of opportunities. In addition to being an excellent medium for learning, playing in the mud is fun! Mixing soil, water, and a range of other natural materials offer endless possibilities. Creating mud pies, messy concoctions, and digging for insects allows children to practice their social skills, such as cooperation, negotiation, and communication. Using a supply of basic materials (pots, pans, spoons, bowls, gravel, plant materials) and mud, friends are able to explore the open-ended nature of creating outdoors. Mud play is appropriate for all ages, offering a sensory experience for each child at their own comfort level. Filling, pouring, transferring, observing, smoothing, collecting, measuring, filtering and mixing are just some of the experiences young children engage in when working with mud.

Campus Explorations

Once a week, during a dedicated time, each group embarks on a walk around CMU’s campus to discover the many different outdoor spaces.   The Number Garden, the Westinghouse Pond, The Mushroom Park and the Track and Field are some of the places we experience together while finding new spaces to explore along the way. The campus explorations offer the children additional time outdoors in new spaces and offer opportunities to practice and strengthen cooperation skills, gross motor skills and observational skills.  In addition to skill development, we build a sense of community as we share the campus with CMU students and faculty.

Children strengthen gross motor skills (walking, running, jumping etc.) at the CMU track and field.
Children learn to navigate the slope of the hillside as they race up and down together.
Children join the CMU community in welcoming the goats that visit to eat the unwanted over grown vegetation.
Children practice their balancing skills while out on a campus exploration.
Children explore various areas on campus to collect nature items (acorns, leaves, pine cones, etc.)
After learning about bridges, the children walk to the Pausch bridge to share observations about the structure.