Redesigning playscapes with children and youth

Sensory Wonde

Kreativni krajobrazi

Location: Elementary School Rapska, Zagreb, Croatia

Participants: school kids aged 7–13

Keywords: sensory garden, biological diversity, co-design, greening, sustainability


Being a part of the RE:PLAY project over the past three years has been an extraordinary journey and thanks to the engaging workshops with the students of Rapska Elementary School in Zagreb, we have embarked on a collective journey of imagination, design, and implementation to bring their sensory garden to life. 

At the project’s outset, we gathered relevant data using surveys, interviews, and even a thermal map to understand how the children felt in different areas of the schoolyard and observed their play patterns. Their valuable insights helped us prepare for architectural workshops where we collaboratively crafted a 3D model of their envisioned playground.

"I like the meadow the most and would like flowers to be planted on it." Over the course of two captivating school days, children from various classes came together to participate in the planting activity, shaping the foundation of a future sensory garden. Together, we planted a carefully selected assortment of 400 perennials and ornamental plants specifically selected to engage and stimulate all of the senses while promoting biodiversity. By incorporating a wide variety of plant species, we aimed to create an ecosystem that attracts pollinators, supports local wildlife, and showcases the beauty of nature's diversity.
Willow house
“I would like to have a treehouse and also a play house.” In a frequently overlooked corner of the schoolyard, near the bustling intersection of two roads, we built a protective house made of willow twigs. Together, we collected willow branches by the river, after which children learned the art of weaving by shaping the branches into a sturdy structure. The willow house quickly transformed into a cherished space where the children now gather daily to play, have picnics, and even rehearse singing performances. To enhance their future picnics, we planted a shrub of berry fruit nearby, adding a touch to their sensory senses in outdoor experiences.
“The old birdhouse just fell down from the tree. We really need a new one.” As a complement to the sensory garden, we also need to take care of the birds. We recognized the importance of nurturing our feathered friends and together with the children, we have designed, painted, and assembled birdhouses to raise awareness among kids about the importance of caring for the animals around us while fostering a deeper connection with nature.
Bug hotels
"There were bees in the forest a few months ago and we made them houses, a little room, a small bed. We made a pool for bees with water." Inspired by the children's passion for studying and caring for insects through play, we designed and assembled two insect hotels. Children, along with their parents and siblings, collected pinecones, sticks, and various natural materials over the weekend to construct a cozy, captivating hotel filled with the scents of the forest.
Care and maintenance
"Maybe if there were more actions to clean the school environment. I would participate if I could." The newly created sensory garden requires regular care and maintenance. Since the children were actively involved in every step of creating the garden, they have taken on the important task of watering the plants, especially during the summer months. To ensure the garden's well-being, a maintenance plan will be shared with the students and school staff, allowing them to continue learning about the responsibility they hold towards their environment.
Musical elements
“There used to be wooden stumps here, but they were removed. I would like them back.”
In this part of the sensory garden, we have crafted musical elements from tree stumps and metal bars, creating not only comfortable places to sit at and relax in the shade of old plane trees but also inspiring spots for children to explore and create their own music. By interacting with these unique musical features, children have the opportunity to experiment, discover different sounds, and compose their own melodies, adding an extra layer of engagement to their sensory garden experience.
Sensory senses
Children actively explore and engage with their environment through sensory stimulation, i.e. by using their senses of sight, hearing, smell, touch, and taste. Plants, in their diverse textures, colors, scents, and sounds, offer an immersive sensoryexperience that awakens our connection to the natural world.

Then we began constructing a willow house and planting the sensory garden with care, with plants specifically chosen to engage and stimulate all of the senses, creating a rich sensory experience while promoting biodiversity. Through hands-on activities, such as constructing bird feeders and bug hotels, we aimed to instill a sense of environmental stewardship in the young participants. In order to add an auditory dimension to our sensory garden, we manufactured musical elements from tree stumps and metal bars, providing not only seating areas for relaxation but also inspiring spaces for musical experimentation.

The project’s sustainability and longevity lie in the hands of the children and teachers, who will dutifully maintain and cherish our mutual achievement. 

The RE:PLAY project stands as a testament to the positive impact that can be achieved when communities come together to reimagine and enhance their shared spaces. By empowering children and involving them in the design and maintenance processes, we have fostered a sense of ownership, pride, and responsibility in creating a vibrant and sustainable environment within their school grounds.


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