Senior school students still want the fun, colour and excitement in their open spaces that they might have enjoyed in their primary school playgrounds, according to new Canberra research.
Canberra landscape architect and PhD student Gweneth Leigh took a novel approach while researching how the design of secondary schoolyards could impact on the wellbeing of students.
She staged an ideas competition for Canberra students from years 7 to 12 called The Schoolyard I'd Like.
And she found as well as wanting safe, relaxing and engaging spaces, senior students overwhelmingly still wanted fun in their open spaces.
One of the competition winners, Natalie Hardy, a year 11 student at Gungahlin College, even said she included bright colours, slides, ping pong tables and a greenhouse in her entry to "remind students in years 10 to 12 how a school can be fun and remind them of their primary school days".
Natalie, 16, said most of the open spaces at her college were used by students just to sit and talk.
"I wanted to get involved because normally no one usually uses this space for what it's meant to, they just sit around and talk. But I really wanted it to be like what it used to be in primary school," she said.
"We're still kids and I think we still need a bit of fun outside our busy schedule. [In primary school], everyone would just play on the playground and play on the oval and just be more active but now we're just standing still and not really doing anything."
Natalie said she also wanted to inject more colour into the students' open spaces.
"At the moment, not to be rude or anything, it's a real concrete jungle and it kind of make litter really noticeable," she said.
"I thought if there was more colour, people would think, 'Oh, someone has put a lot of work into this, let's not trash the place'."
Ms Leigh, a PhD student at the University of Canberra's Health Research Institute said 35 students from six Canberra schools put forward entries for consideration. They all did the entries on top of their usual school work.
They came up with everything from castle playgrounds to kitchen gardens; "hardcore parkour" to even just footpaths that didn't have cracks in them.
Ms Leigh said a growing body of research demonstrated the mental and physical health benefits of spending time outdoors.
"Given the vast amount of time adolescents spend at school, schoolyards are an important resource," she said.
She said students often moved from a nurturing exciting space at primary school to a high school or college with "an oval, some seats and that's about it".
"The competition was really about going out and understanding what students want," she said.
"We don't necessarily do a good job, as designers, of engaging that cohort."
Ms Leigh said all the school yard ideas received in the competition were "fantastic".
"It was interesting because some of the entries were very practical, some were out of the box and a lot of them were about nurturing spaces that accommodated a community, not just one cohort of students," she said.
Natalie Hardy from Gungahlin College won the year 11-12 section.
Radford College students Daniel Thomson and Oliver Fox won the year 9-10 section.
A group entry from the Black Mountain School won the year 7-8 section comprising contributions from Chase Cheong, Alexander Dahms, Johnny El Khourg, Michaela Keaton, Ryan Koevoets, Cyrus Merritt, Matthew Nahon, Jenny Phoenix, Archie Ryan and Cooper Wallace.
Winners were awarded $200 Westfield vouchers. All entries can be viewed at www.theschoolyard.com.au.
Ms Leigh thanked Tracy Gallagher (director health promotion) and Nova Inkpen (manager of wellbeing and inclusion) at the Education Directorate and Veronika Pasalic (manager of the It's Your Move program) at ACT Health for advising her and promoting the competition.
Ms Gallagher and Ms Pasalic also served on the jury for selection of the winning entries.
"Having a chance to involve both the education and health directorates was helpful and important, as the design of our schoolyards provides a bridge connecting wellbeing and learning initiatives across both these departments," Ms Leigh said.
The competition has already inspired Natalie Hardy to perhaps pursue a career in the field.
"After doing this, I really want to do something with architecture or landscaping, because I found I'm kind of good at it and it was fun as well," she said.