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A Nature Based Loose Parts Playground

4100 39th Ave S., Seattle, WA 98118

Hawthorne Elementary, a diverse, Title 1 school in south central Seattle, approached team members Convene pllc, Puddletown Playworks and Outdoor Classroom Design for help creating a playground space to match their multidisciplinary mission: Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Math (S.T.E.A.M.). Spring of 2017 the design for Hawthorne S.T.E.A.M. Playspace was born, and Phase One constructed within the following year. Meeting needs of community, students, parents and teachers, the playspace expands access to nature, diversifies topography, establishes areas for socialization, reflection and active play, and maximizes opportunities for creativity with Seattle School’s first intentional loose parts creative play area (a nature based adventure playground operational since 2018). We successfully engaged over 85% of the student body with in-class and after school design activities, driving robust parent support at community meetings averaging 150+ participants each. The school community is currently researching funding opportunities to complete Phase Three of this exciting and innovative playground design.


Goals for student engagement at Hawthorne were twofold: Establish strong student voice and investment in play ground design, and harnessing this excitement to drive family and community participation. Our success relied on two basic principles: 1) Students’ ability to expand the definition of what playgrounds could do, and 2) Creativity as the basic engine for learning and play. K-1 Students created colorful watercolor resist paintings depicting their favorite places to play – including bedrooms, family venues, small groups of friends and ball courts. 2nd-5th grades built models of STEAM oriented playground structures designed to teach or inspire others about their favorite lessons in school. All grade levels completed mapping activities surveying existing strengths and problems. These maps, along with models and paintings served to teach and inspire the community and to drive the eventual vision for the Hawthorne STEAM Playspace.

S.T.E.A.M. PLAYSPACE = Student Led + Creative + Nature
Phase One and Two- expanding pockets of native vegetation, establishing new soccer court, upgrading existing play equipment and completing the Creative Play Area (PTSA maintained nature based adventure play ground). Phase Three is in the works including the water runnel, grassy knoll, and boulders.

Additional Lessons, Activities, Curriculum

Outdoor Classroom Design utilized a series of scaffolding activities and warm-ups to build a foundation of student knowledge and skills for design work. A summary and evaluation of our original activities can be found in Lessons Learned. We also returned in 2018 to facilitate a Student Led Charette for an outdoor classroom, where 4th graders guided 2nd and 3rd grade students through design activities. Check out materials and summaries for lessons, activities and more in the links below or go straight to the Sample Lessons and Curriculum page!