Second Grade Students Design Their Dream Playgrounds
2nd graders with their playground prototype

From creekside to hillside and everywhere in between, the MCDS campus has always been filled with opportunities for students to joyfully explore, create, imagine, grow and play.

This year, second grade teachers piloted a new Playground Unit that incorporated the fun and joy of play with learning, as they challenged students to design models of their dream playground.

Play is important because it teaches you to be kind and generous. And it helps you make friends. It teaches you to stand up for others when something seems unfair.

To begin, teachers showed the second grade designers images of playgrounds from around the world, and they gave students specific guidelines for their designs. The students’ playgrounds had to be electricity-free, environmentally-friendly, welcoming to all people, and include at least three different structures, one of which had to be accessible to all regardless of abilities. 

To help the second graders understand what it meant to design a play structure for kids of varying abilities, teachers used the picture book All the Way to the Top: How One Girl’s Fight for Americans with Disabilities Changed Everything as a springboard into conversations about the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). They also showed their classes videos on ADA-compliant playgrounds. 

2nd graders with their playground prototype

With the research phase complete, students began brainstorming their ideas, sketching them out and, using found objects, creating prototypes of their playground designs. Their final designs included soccer fields, dodgeball and basketball courts, ramps, bridges and slides (one design touted “the biggest slide ever!”), braille signage, monkey bars, swings and climbing walls, dog parks and wave pools. 

Second graders also wrote essays about the importance of play. And as these excerpts show, the students are clear that play is more than just fun:

“Play is a safe challenge if you want to try something new.”

“Play helps you dream up and do what you’ve always wanted. For example, you could be a fairy, a king, a queen. You can even be yourself.” 

"Play is important because it teaches you to be kind and generous. And it helps you make friends. It teaches you to stand up for others when something seems unfair.” 

“Play gives you body breaks and fresh air. A good body break activity is basketball because it gets your body moving.” 

“Have you ever built something without instructions? That’s creativity. And creativity is play. Without creativity, problem-solving would be difficult.” 

“You learn to share when you play. For example, you shouldn’t hog the swings. Life would be boring without play!”

Inspired by how well the second graders expressed all the reasons why play is so crucial in building social skills and sparking creativity and joy, teachers sent the essays to Dr. Stuart Brown, founder of the National Institute for Play and author of Play: How it Shapes the Brain, Opens Imagination, and Invigorates the Soul

Dr. Brown responded with a personal video message to the second graders! Watch it below.