No Slide, No Swings, No Problem: Reimagining Children’s Outdoor Play

September 26, 2014

By: Angelica Rockquemore

As thousands of our young keiki head back to school, I reflect on my favorite memories of being in elementary school. The favorite part of my day was recess. I simply loved being outdoors.

Our playground was simple, it was an open field with no play structure or toys, just a majestic and expansive view of Kawainui Marsh, a giant Monkeypod tree and a collection of diverse plants. With my group of friends, our favorite way to spend recess began with gathering the oblong shaped pods that fell from the Monkeypod tree to practice writing the letters of our name in the dirt. Then we would collect plumeria flowers and ever-so-delicately we would bend their petals to make what we thought were the fanciest of rings.  Best of all, we would scoop up fallen ti leaves to use as fans as if we were royals in Queen Lili‘uokalani’s court.

Decades later, I’ve come to appreciate nature play and plants for their ability to foster and develop imaginative play, especially in the formative minds of young children. As a landscape designer, I’m constantly thinking of ways to utilize design strategies to help children not only engage in creative and imaginative play but to also practice making connections with what they are learning about in their classrooms to what they actually see and experience every day in their outdoor play environments. For example, can you envision preschoolers learning about ‘ulu (breadfruit tree) not only by looking at pictures in books in their classroom, but through actually caring for it in a designated garden space just outside of their classroom?

Angelica Rockquemore Sketch

Sketch by: Angelica Rockquemore

This indeed is no small task but with the support from schools, teachers, families and our community, we can begin taking action by not only reimagining, but through design, transforming these outdoor play areas to become living outdoor classrooms.

Curious and excited to see how this is being accomplished here in Hawai‘i?? Stay tuned in the coming days to see how a partnership with the U.S. Green Building Council Hawai‘i, HHF Planners and Wilson Elementary School transforms an outdoor play space into an active learning place.

Wilson Elementary School Playground

Our project area pre-event, at Mayor John H. Wilson Elementary School for Green Apple Day of Service 2014. PC: Erin Higa


To see our Green Apple Day of Service event: Canoe Plant Cultural Garden, Pathways and Irrigation, or to volunteer, click here.

It’s not too late to donate to Green Apple projects happening all over O‘ahu – please give!

If you’d like to learn more about how you can be involved with Green Apple Day of Service, now or in the future, please click here.

Angelica Rockquemore recently joined the HHF team as a staff planner and landscape designer. As recipient of a Fulbright Fellowship Award, Ms. Rockquemore spent one year conducting research and design work exploring Japanese garden preservation practices in Kyoto, Japan. Following her year of study and exploration, she attended the University of Washington where she received a Master of Landscape Architecture degree with an emphasis in Urban Ecological Design. During her studies of Landscape Architecture, Ms. Rockquemore worked for the State of Hawai’i Historic Preservation Department conducting archival research and analysis for a Cultural Landscape Report for the Harold L. Lyon Arboretum. She also studied Urban Design at the University of Auckland’s Master of Urban Design Program in New Zealand and completed her masters thesis on designing outdoor play areas in Maori language immersion preschools, Te Kōhanga Reo.


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