A new way of looking at children’s playtime


“Normal” playtime at a very special school. Children with long term illnesses learn and play at the Open Air School in Breda.

The Open Air School (OLS) Breda is one of the largest schools for children with long-term illnesses (LZK schools) in the Netherlands. Together with his team director, Jules van der Horst supervises more than 160 children from across the region who suffer from a diversity of chronic illnesses such as asthma and epilepsy. However, the school also accepts young cancer patients and, in fact, any child with long-term physical illnesses who cannot attend regular school. This makes the school a somewhat atypical place to learn and play, although Mr Van der Horst says it's quite normal as regards children's play.

Playing "normally"

"In essence, chronically sick children play no differently to any other children, so our play areas are actually completely normal. What's more, it is very important that we allow these children to play as normally as possible, so that they develop in exactly the same way as other children. But you must also assume that there are students who have never learnt to play with other children, because in hospital they only interacted with adults. Some of our children have never even played outdoors before. So a great deal of supervision is also necessary, but this mainly takes place behind the scenes. In the various play areas it is mainly about fun."

Master Plan in cooperation with KOMPAN Play Institute

Play is more important for the social-emotional development of children with chronic illnesses than for their healthy peers, but Mr Van der Horst never had the financial resources to create an ideal play area until the "Sick Child in Motion" Foundation adopted all LZK schools in the Netherlands. That led to a master plan in which KOMPAN developed a unique vision for play at the OLS Breda by means of a carefully designed layout plan. According to Mr Van der Horst, the needs of the children are central to this plan. "They looked very closely at the way in which our children play, conducted interviews and created a whole host of designs. That ultimately led to a layout plan with various "play spaces" in which all the children could find their own place. From this plan KOMPAN created a book for all LZK schools, and with the financial support of sponsors including the Children's Postage Stamps Foundation, all of the schools acquired new play facilities step by step.

 A place for everyone

For the Open Air School in Breda, the Master Plan consisted of a playing field, a central play area and various play areas around the school building and on the playground. The play areas contain equipment from the KOMPAN Galaxy and Nature ranges. According to Mr Van der Horst, the design is very logical: "the little ones play somewhat closer to the school, and, correspondingly, play becomes a bit more adventurous in the play areas situated a little further from the building or amongst the trees. That's where you'll find mainly the older children. But of course it's nice that children find their own way, and you can do anything here: crawl, run, climb, slide, build huts, play football and so on. There is something to do for everyone on the playground." Van der Horst does not just mean his own students however, because outside school hours, the school playground is open to all local children.

Development through play

Master Plan or not, at first sight, the playground at the Open Air School looks like that of any other school - and that is precisely how Van der Horst sees it. "We are a special school, but everything looks as normal as possible here. Many of our children have seen enough of hospitals from the inside. Indeed, parents think it's great to see their children develop in a nice, non-medical environment. And that is precisely what this place is all about: helping children to develop normally."

Fast facts

Location: Breda, Netherlands

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