The serious work behind playtime


A school playground is much more than monkey bars and jungle gyms in an open field. It’s a platform for physical, emotional, social and cognitive development. Play builds synapses just as much as muscle fibers. Which is why the Department takes playgrounds seriously. (And, notably, set policy for students to get at least 20 minutes’ physical exercise daily.)

​​ Over the last several years, the Department has been refurbishing playgrounds at campuses across the state. As of February 2015, upgrades have been made to playgrounds at more than 20 schools, with 13 in progress and on track to be completed by June. Some schools such as Waikele Elementary have received an all-new playground.

According to Monica Kaui Baron, who is in charge of playgrounds​ for the Department, there is a science to selecting which playgrounds get redone and when. The refurbishment program’s approach is to reduce, reuse and recycle playground equipment, whenever possible.

The approach allows the Department to modernize playgrounds at lower cost, all while keeping the safety of children at the fore. After these considerations, the goal is to select the most exciting playgrounds to foster happy, healthy students with a ready-to-learn mindset.

“In the past, students who have grown bored of playground equipment try to create new ‘challenges’ with the equipment, exposing them to risk of injury to themselves or others” by using the equipment in ways it wasn’t intended for, says Baron. “And playgrounds need to be inviting, engaging and offer challenges since we compete with digital devices for children’s attention.”

A recent standard requirement of all refurbished playgrounds is the use of artificial turf (similar to a football playing surface) to protect children from serious falling injuries.

On December 8, 2014, Aina Haina Elementary opened its refurbished playground, pictured above. Principal Brendan Burns said it’s a dynamic focal-point on campus.

“Our students have responded well to the new equipment; they are excited when they come to school, and it really helps to put them in a great frame of mind to learn,” said Principal Burns.

Aina Haina’s teachers have told Burns that the new equipment pushes students to build their confidence as they find success in working their core muscles and developing creative problem-solving skills while engaging in fine and gross motor activities.

“(The new playground) builds on our school vision of developing balanced and well-rounded students,” said Burns. “It fits in nicely with our school signature of the International Baccalaureate (IB) because it encourages them to be risk-takers, balanced individuals and thinkers.”

Over the last two years, playground refurbishments have been completed at:

  • August Ahrens Elementary
  • Aiea Elementary
  • Aina Haina Elementary
  • Ala Wai Elementary
  • Aliamanu Elementary
  • Aliiolani Elementary
  • Holomua Elementary
  • Kaahumanu Elementary
  • Kaala Elementary
  • Kahaluu Elementary
  • Kalihi Elementary
  • Kanoelani Elementary
  • Kapalama Elementary
  • Mokapu Elementary
  • Momilani Elementary
  • Mountain View Elementary
    (Hawaii Island)
  • Nanakuli Elementary
  • Nuuanu Elementary
  • Waikele Elementary
  • Waikiki Elementary
  • Wilcox Elementary (Kauai)

In order for the Department to keep these playgrounds safe for student use, the playgrounds are open during school hours only. Use during non-school hours that is unrelated to student activities is prohibited.

Contact Information

Communications and Community Affairs Office

Phone: 808-586-3232



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