Ancona School planning $2 million “outdoor learning space” for 2015

Ancona Director Bonne Wishne describes the new Outdoor Learning Space at a recent unveiling at the school, 4770 S. Dorchester Ave. Spencer Bibbs
Ancona Director Bonne Wishne describes the new Outdoor Learning Space at a recent unveiling at the school, 4770 S. Dorchester Ave.

-Spencer Bibbs

Staff Writer

The Ancona School unveiled its plans for an Outdoor Learning Space (OLS) at a special “Tent Event” on Oct. 19. Parents, alumni and friends of the school were invited to learn more about the school’s initiative and the importance of learning through play.

“Ancona is a progressive school so when the playground needed an update it is not in the school’s fashion to replace a tire swing with a new tire swing,” said Ancona parent and Outdoor Learning Space Campaign Chair Lara Moynihan. “At a time when other schools are cutting back on recess and up on homework, Ancona is being a leader on understanding how children really learn instead of following trends.”

Moynihan said past and present parents, alumni and students of Ancona got together to express their needs and do research on the school’s next play space.

“Ancona is really growing to be a state-of-the-art space … We want it to be more than a playground,” Moynihan said.

“We know from research and brain development that play is the work of children,” said past Ancona parent David Kleeman, analyst, author and speaker, who was the guest speaker at the event, which took place at Ancona, 4770 S. Dorchester Ave. “They learn a lot about the world around them social relationships, risk taking and it builds social, emotional, cognitive and physical strength skills.”

Kleeman has the unique role of being a “PlayVangelist,” which means he travels the world doing research on the learning benefits of play with media and toy companies and educators.

“I loved seeing how thoughtfully the entire Ancona community was engaged in designing the new play space,” said Kleeman, whose late wife Leslie was a board member at Ancona.

Ancona parent and OLS architect Martin Felsen, of Urban Lab and Strategist, who is donating his architectural expertise to the school, said Ancona is upgrading from its current uneven grassy field on the west side of the school to the new play space.

“The Ancona’s study led to more than just “picking playthings out of a catalogue,” said Felsen. “The school determined five important learning areas the play space must fulfill.”

Climbing helps students see the world from a different perspective and helps with problem solving. Being overhead improves upper body and core body strength and hand-eye coordination. Swinging on swings that allow more than one child to swing builds cooperation skills and teaches the children how to share. Standing water troughs allow children to learn about mathematical and scientific structures in tactile ways. Integrating nature into the play space creates critical thinking opportunities.

Moynihan said the estimated cost of the OLS is approximately $2 million.  

“We have raised $1 million and we have received an additional pledge for $500,000 that will match the last $500,000 raised dollar for dollar,” she said.

The money was donated from current and past parents and the school plans to raise the remaining money this school year so ground breaking can begin in June and the project can be completed by fall 2015.