Playcosystem and the partnership with University of Louisville

By Claude Stephens

Since the summer of 2020, the University of Louisville College of Education and Human Development research team – Drs. Jill JacobiVessels, Meg Gravil, and Sherri Brown – has been meeting monthly with Bernheim staff to discuss the implementation of Playcosystem, the new 10-acre natural play space at Bernheim.

The team has spent many hours reading natural and free play related literature and consolidating their documentation. They are currently drafting a research paper to capture the thoughtful planning, construction, and intent for Playcosystem. As an informal learning site, it will be shared with a wider audience to consider when planning their own natural play spaces.

While much of the team’s time is spent focusing on their notes and documentation, they are often drawn into the natural playscape, walking inclined logs to challenge coordination, climbing berms to see views, and jumping stumps to cross terrain. The team truly enjoys spending time in the space, getting a first-hand experience with how they envision children playing and learning in Playcosystem.

“Our research partnership with Bernheim focuses on the learning that occurs through free play and interactions with the natural environment, in addition to addressing the inequity of such affordances for all children,” said Dr. Gravil, Clinical Assistant Professor, Interdisciplinary Early Childhood Education.

“Reading the literature and viewing videos of how other countries view unstructured play validates the need for continued research within natural settings,” said Dr. Sherri Brown, Associate Professor of Science Education.

Bernheim aspires to help others explore their wildest outdoor play ideas. This UofL partnership helps ensure Playcosystem is a true laboratory for best practices in how play supports child development.

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