The prototype hydroponic playground, developed by a design research team led by Heath Reed and Andy Stanton from the University’s Lab4Living research group, stimulates crop growth by harnessing the energy generated by the children as they play.
The pilot playground garden, Playponics, includes seesaws and hydroponic growing frames and has now been installed at a school in Uttar Pradesh, India. It will enable the team to test how specially constructed play equipment in a school environment can use the power generated from children’s play to sustain hydroponic and conventionally grown crops while linking to the taught Environmental Education syllabus.
For example, children riding seesaws fitted with pumps can transfer nutrient rich water around playground gardens to feed hydroponic crop growing frames to grow spinach, lettuce and, the team hopes, even tomatoes.
The project, funded through Research England and UK Research and Innovation’s Global Challenges Research Fund, combines the benefits of physical activity with environmental education and sustainable practices in a fun and interactive way.
The playground gardens are being researched and designed for schools and communities in India to encourage better understanding in current and future populations of our relationship with the natural world, and positively impact on our consumption choices and waste issues. These are all key challenges to longer, healthier and happier lives.
Two further pilot playgrounds will follow in India this year and the team plan to include swings, roundabouts and exercise equipment for local community use.
Heath Reed, the principal researcher behind the project, said: “We were looking for opportunities to teach environmental education hooked into the existing curriculum and we came up with this concept of playground gardens. Participants would play in what we would recognise as a regular playground which would effectively be in a garden and the act of playing would encourage the garden to flourish.
“The ambition is that the children grow up with enhanced awareness of the environment and we are trying to teach this subject in experimental and creative ways.”
The Sheffield Hallam team worked alongside Indian partners including Ativa, a design consultancy based in New Delhi, and local businesses across the country.
Imtiyaz Ali, an assistant teacher at the Khanpur Garbi primary school where the project has been installed, said: “The Playponics setup was installed in our school in January 2021 amid the Covid-19 pandemic. It has proved to be very successful and popular amongst the students.
“The government has instructed that schools be reopened and 50% of the students in each class attend at a time. Because of this installation many students are coming back to school, the attendance has improved.”
The project was impacted by Covid-19 with researchers having to travel back from India and continue the collaboration remotely once the pandemic hit and travel restrictions were put in place in March 2020.