Designing School Grounds to assist Learning and Teaching
School grounds can provide an enormously valuable resource for learning and teaching – for any subject, at short notice and for little or no cost. So it’s vitally important that their capacity to support curriculum delivery and opportunities for learning through play are considered in their design.
To help staff get the most out of their grounds for teaching and play, designers need to talk with them
about their needs, how they use the grounds now and how they might use them in the future. Exploring the national curriculum and QCA or school Schemes of Work will help designers and teachers see the scope of possibilities for lessons outside.
Children learn in different ways. Some learn best through seeing or hearing but many, particularly boys and some pupils with special needs, learn best through doing
Outdoors, children continue to learn through listening and looking but there are also many potential opportunities to take part in hands-on learning. The outdoors can have several advantages for practical learning and teaching – there’s more space; noise and mess are often seen as less serious issues, and children can try out real activities. It’s often when some of these learning styles are combined during first-hand experiences that the best learning takes place because all the senses are being used. The school grounds can benefit learning and teaching in three key ways, by providing:
- an alternative to an internal teaching space
- specialist facilities that it is difficult/impossible to provide inside a building
- an environment for experiential learning.
Creating practical outdoor learning and teaching spaces:
Some schools develop spaces where a whole class can join together. Many teachers value this type of space so that they can gather their pupils in one place for whole-class presentation or discussion. It also provides a focus for pupils and somewhere equipment can be left for them to collect. Spaces for smaller groups can be equally valuable.
Using the grounds to inspire
While the grounds can be a wonderful location to teach in, they can also become an inspiration for different lessons. Even the most barren grounds demonstrate seasonal change – but grounds with a variety of elements such as a range of colours, textures, foliage, habitats, spaces, micro-climates and topography can be used as a basis for many more starting points for lessons.
Easy access to the outdoors from the classroom enables teachers to use the outside as often as possible. Especially for the early years sector, free flow between inside and out is essential. But even for older pupils, direct access to the outside from their classrooms means that more frequent use of the outdoors is more likely.
Much of the PE and school sports curriculum is taught outside, and the space it needs should be factored in when the outdoors is being developed. Along with games and athletics, Outdoor and Adventurous Activities is the topic most likely to be taken outside.
Other curriculum-related features
Some schools may need curriculum-specific features such as horticulture; polytunnels, raised beds, growing areas; agriculture: areas for livestock and hard landscaped construction features; arts and music: musical instruments, a performance area; maths and science; a maths maze, a wind turbine, a dipping platform.
Learning and teaching through play
Play is an important part of pupils’ learning and development experience at school. It’s the way young children learn in particular, but it’s crucial for all age groups. Through play, children learn about themselves, others and the world around them. They learn through experimenting, taking risks, undertaking challenges and finding out where their limits lie. And they need to be given opportunities to stretch themselves within a safe environment such as the school grounds. An enriched play environment can be achieved by providing a variety of opportunities.
Our work with school design at SpaceShapers speaks for itself when we state we are able to help you achieve your goals in terms of both internal and external teaching environments. Please see our education projects page.
About the Author:
Valeska Pack is the Principal Director of SpaceShapers, a firm of chartered architects in West London that she founded following a diverse International career of design and management of numerous iconic building projects Worldwide, with a specific focus on architectural consultancy, low energy design and client-side project management. With Valeska’s guidance, SpaceShapers
Their practice includes a range of high calibre personnel, with experience in the UK, Middle East and Australia. In addition to experience with small, medium and large Residential projects; private and state School projects; University Building projects; Commercial and Tower projects; 4- and 5-star Hotel projects; Stadia and Arenas projects; Airport and Rail / Underground Infrastructure projects.