Erasmus+ Small-scale Partnership project 2021-1-EE01-KA210-YOU-000030465  

Designing outdoor spaces for non-formal learning that promote playful democratic participation, mental and physical health, creativity and sustainability mindset.

The concept of a ‘junk playground’ (also ‘construction playground’ or 'adventur
e playground') is well-known in countries like the United Kingdom, Denmark (‘byggelegeplads’), Germany, Switzerland (‘Kinderbaustelle’) and recently the US. 

Junk playground ('kolahoov' in Estonian) is a concept of a living and changing outdoor playscape. It's essential elements are autonomous free play and loose parts. 

It has been called a “laboratory for democracy” in scientific papers: it is a place where the kids/youngsters can take initiative and autonomously create their own worlds out of ‘junk’- pieces of different materials - wood, bricks, tires, rope, paint, hammers, nails, saws, fabric, netting, plastic pipes etc.

It's also a place for healty risk-taking, which is an essential skill when growing up. 
A pilot junk playground initially built by STEP-youth in cooperation with Tartu Pallas Art School
students and NGO Kids Outdoors community, including kids (July 2022).

So far, a great part of the existing youth work practices focuses on indoor activities. The setup of public playscapes largely ignore the kids’ need for autonomous self directed play and physical and mental challenges.

The general aim of the Erasmus+ funded project is to foster innovation in outdoor non-formal education in the Baltic states by

1) providing Baltic youth workers with innovative knowledge, best practices, tools and practical experience with outdoor junk playground concept that is proven to promote playful democratic participation, mental and physical health, sustainability mindset and creativity;

2) designing and actual constructing powerful non-formal learning environments according to the junk playground concept in all three Baltic states (Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania): this is an outdoor environment which is supportive to and encouraging of participation, within which individuals are free to act and develop initiatives as they see fit.

Designing and construction in each of the countries will be carried out in cooperation with the youth and/or different vulnerable groups, to increase their social competences, provide participation in democratic processes etc;

3) creating a Baltic network for outdoor non-formal education practitioners and enthusiasts, to keep sharing ideas, experiences, challenges and best practice.

4) establishing cross-sectoral partnership between experts and practitioners at local and regional level to engage the knowledge, skills and experience into development processes connected to the youth (such as public space design), thus impacting the societal attitudes towards the concept.

At the organisational level, our specific goal is to build capacity and develop self-sustainability, for being able to start keeping the junk playground freely accessible for the youth (7-17) as an everyday after-school environment, have the playground equipped with trained playworkers (responsible mentors) and a variety of activities, and engage international volunteer playworkers for continuous development and cultural exchange.

Youthworkers, community leaders and architects playing at the junk playground in Tartu during an Erasmus+ training (August 2023).

The project contributes to tackling contemporary challenges:
(1) an environment based solely on reuse and upcycling fosters creativity, organically shapes values and provides everyday skills, contributing to overall sustainability goals;

(2) respecting and encouraging autonomy results in informal microlevel democratic participation (co-managing the playspace by the youth; cooperating, solving conflicts, creating rules in the play);

(3) affordances that require taking initiative and solving problems foster entrepreneurship competence and social skills;

(4) physical activity and healthy risk-taking outdoors turn excessive screen time to “green time”, contributing to physical and emotional wellbeing;

(5) autonomous play with loose materials supports mental health;

(6) handling tools, using logical thinking (+planning, collaborating) to construct structures fosters competence in technology.