About school grounds worldwide
The Globe and Mail, a major Canadian newspaper, ran a great article today that highlights the green schoolyard movement around the world and the need for nature and physical challenges in schoolyard settings. The piece includes photos from schools in Sweden, Japan, Germany, Canada and Pakistan--and it mentions the International School Grounds Alliance, Evergreen and our recent conference in Toronto! Very exciting. Please help us to share this article!
Photo: Sharon Danks
Evergreen was proud to host the 2013 Nature School Conference, four days of learning, sharing, and inspiration, September 22-25, 2013 at the Evergreen Brick Works in Toronto, Canada. Held in partnership with the International School Grounds Alliance, it brought together over 150 members of the international community working to create green school grounds and improve the outdoor play and learning conditions for school-aged children. Delegates from across Canada and the USA, Australia, Japan, Germany, Sweden, and England gathered to exchange ideas and best practices.
Nature School built off the momentum created at the 2011 Engaging our Grounds conference in San Francisco, California, where the International School Grounds Alliance was founded. The vision for Nature School was to progress the school ground greening movement locally and internationally, bring the growing international community to Toronto, and continue fostering partnerships. Aimed at practitioners, Nature School combined traditional presentations with interactive workshop and small-group discussions.
Conference Highlights and Themes
Case studies were a key part of the proceedings, and it was landscape architects Dr. Ko Senda from Tokyo and Birgit Teichmann from Berlin that startled participants with their incredible depth and breadth of world class design, participatory process and commitments from many levels of authority in their regions to high quality children’s environments.
Our focus on risk was both critical and challenging. Virtually every jurisdiction is challenged by increasing risk-averse sensibilities and policies the world over. That said, key practitioners from the UK and the US led us through their current work and thinking on the subject, revealing a new language and approach and a provocative look at what the statistics are actually telling us about the risks associated with natural outdoor play spaces. One of the key observations on this topic was that, collectively, we need to start the discussion about risk by first creating a list of the benefits that risk provides students – whether it be their physical, social, emotional or intellectual development. New frameworks for working through institutional risk assessment offer much promise for the Canadian context.
Highlights of the hands-on learning sessions were presentations by three staff from the Nature School in Lund, Sweden and by celebrated international leader Sue Humphries from the Coombes School in Arborshire, England. Sue Humphries led the entire group through an animated session inspired by the work of internationally-celebrated artist Christo that cloaked many pockets of the Evergreen Brick Works landscape in cloth, ribbon and binding. The universally-adored session was provocative – revealing the power of an artistic act to create a compelling new interest in and inspiration from an everyday landscape, both through its wrapping and later when that everyday object is revealed again after removal. The buzz from the session carried throughout the conference, demonstrating the power of landscape when combined with an exceptional educator.
Models of Innovation
Lastly, there was an abundance of other international approaches shared through case studies and panels that focused on local, regional and national models of innovation. The content was rich, including a discussion of the Boston Schoolyard Initiative’s first 20 years and the Trust for Public Lands’ partnership with New York City in the complete makeover of many of its school grounds. The sessions also saw examples from Europe, such as the incredible work of Grun Macht Schule in Berlin and the Nature School in Lund, Sweden. Closer to home, inspired examples of institutional change came from San Francisco delegates, a presentation on Evergreen’s collaborations with Canadian school boards, and a summary of findings of the TD Friends of the Environment Foundation’s audit of previously-funded school ground greening projects. In all, participants (including a number of school board officials) had abundant questions and an active interest in trying to understand how variations on these models might unlock change at a new scale in their own jurisdiction.
Cam Collyer is the Director of Learning Grounds at Evergreen and Co-Founder of the International School Grounds Alliance.
Photos by (from top): Evergreen, Anders Kjellsson, Eva Persson, Evergreen
The International School Grounds Alliance (ISGA), in partnership with Evergreen, invites you to join us for an incredible opportunity this September 22–25, as international experts in the green schoolyard field convene for the 2013 Nature School Conference at Evergreen Brick Works in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. Leading green school ground practitioners and researchers from around the world will gather to share the latest trends, innovations, best practices and creative thinking in green schoolyard design, maintenance, curricula, play, ecology and advocacy.
Building on our successful 2011 conference in San Francisco, the gathering this year will foster a meaningful dialogue between practitioners who work in a range of different cultural and geographic contexts around the globe. As it grows, the green school ground movement faces similar opportunities and challenges near and far, but the approaches our colleagues take and the solutions they find to larger questions are fascinatingly varied. Our conference sessions this year will draw out those similarities and differences and engage all participants in conversations about the larger issues in our field.
Broad themes of the conference include: the value of beneficial risk in children’s environments and strategies for implementation; ecological and programmatic sustainability; hands-on, place-based education for all ages (pre-school to high school); how to improve children’s health through nature play, school lunch programs and gardens; and an exploration of successful, regional green schoolyard models.
Keynote speaker Sue Humphries, author and former head teacher at The Coombes School in England, will transport us into the richly-textured world of outdoor education. Using a vibrant 40-year case study and engaging hands-on demonstrations, Sue will illustrate how education inspired by nature can profoundly impact children’s school experience. Professor Robin C. Moore will share his fascinating research on children’s behavior and his insights into how to design children’s environments to foster place-based understanding, child development and creativity.
In addition, Evergreen’s Greening Associates from across Canada will partner with ISGA Steering Committee members to lead interactive Alliance Café sessions, where conference participants will engage in ongoing discussions and establish lasting professional networks.
The conference setting is the beautiful Evergreen Brick Works: an award-winning center for sustainable living and environmental education that turned an abandoned brick factory and quarry in the heart of Toronto’s Don River Valley into a thriving wetland ecosystem with striking architecture, an engaging children’s playground, and other community resources. Evergreen’s two decades of leadership in the green schoolyard field have yielded a myriad of successful projects nearby, which will be showcased during the conference’s site tours.
Sign up now to participate in this exciting event and join us in this important movement!
Sharon Danks is co-founder of the International School Grounds Alliance, a founding principal of Bay Tree Design and author of Asphalt to Ecosystems: Design Ideas for Schoolyard Transformation.
Photos of Evergreen Brick Works by Sharon Danks.
The International School Grounds Alliance is holding its next conference September 22-25, 2013, hosted by co-founder, Evergreen, in Toronto, Ontario, Canada.
Join us for three days of inspiration, idea sharing and discussion with visionary leaders of the green school ground movement from Canada and around the world, including Japan, the US, the UK, Germany, Sweden, Norway and Australia. Share the latest trends and innovations, case studies, best practices and creative thinking and teaching in green school ground design. Plus, pick up strategies for maintenance, advocacy and building funding relationships.
Please help us to spread the word by posting this announcement far and wide.
Mark your calendar! Enrollment will be open soon. Follow this link for more information.
Prospect Learning Center and Jefferson Academy grow pizzas!
A school based in Washington DC tells us what they were up to during International School Grounds month.
We worked with our students doing outdoor science and art lessons while tending our school gardens. Students learned about plant life cycle, recorded plant growth rates, harvested organic vegetables from their gardens and enjoyed them in cooking lessons.
Play Learning Life is thrilled to be supporting International School Grounds Month and we have had a very busy May so far, celebrating the diversity and potential of school grounds with schools and early years settings throughout in the UK. We have
- Collaborated with staff in an Essex Foundation Stage Unit on early years outdoor playground improvements
- Worked with children at a Hampshire primary school on pond improvements and a new fire pit
- Introduced action research projects to a group of early years practitioners in Dudley, examining the elements that contribute to high quality outdoor learning and play
- Created banners with children at a London school, to celebrate progress on their grounds development project
- Worked alongside school architects to establish how best to integrate good quality grounds into their own projects.
- Reflected on outdoor practice and provision with early years practitioners at a London Children’s Centre.
- Explored the potential of school grounds, on a very rainy day, with children at a Liss school
These projects are just a tiny snapshot of what’s happening across the UK; in Scotland, Grounds for Learning have been supporting parents with outdoor play in the natural environment and Juliet Robinson has been blogging the crazy photographs her classes took of their school grounds using iPads. In Northern Ireland, Kierna Corr’s nursery class enjoyed a wet but fiery Friday and in Wales, Learning through Landscapes have been working with the very young.
For my part, I visited ‘Middle Earth’ in the English Midlands: Featherstone Primary School, where part of their school field has been transformed with the help of Timotay Playscapes into a magical child-sized play environment. I’d wanted to visit for a while, so the CPD trip to nearby Dudley provided the perfect excuse. Headteacher Edris Gaibee welcomed me to the school and Early Years lead Helen Beach very kindly gave me a tour of the garden, named Dreamy Hollow.
The focus of the garden is a stunning ‘hobbit hole’ underground classroom, complete with circular door and very low ceilings! Light floods in from a quirky lightwell – a cottage on the hill above. The garden undulates and occupies its space with character and purpose, providing the whole school with myriad learning and play opportunities.
Building work taking place adjacent to the early years classrooms means that their outdoor space is currently out of use, so Helen explained how they are managing to provide regular outdoor time for their youngest children by bringing them up in groups for lengthy periods of time in Dreamy Hollow. Whilst there, children are able to explore dens and willow tunnels, look at picture books and hear stories in the story circle or in the hobbit hole, tend veggies in the allotment area, ride their bikes around the tricky gravel pathways allotment gardens or play freely on the lush grass or wildflower meadow above the hobbit hole.
Helen talked to me about the importance of child initiated play as well as adult supported experiences, and described how joyfully her young children explore, take risks, co-operate and communicate with one another when placed in this unconventional corner of the grounds. At a recent seminar, early years pedagogue Jan White talked about the importance of ‘abundance’ and ‘generosity’ of materials in early years play spaces, and this garden certainly has eccentricity in abundance. It will be fascinating to watch how it develops its character as a playspace in coming years as the natural elements (trees, willow, wildflowers) begin to take hold.
I loved the potential of the ‘mirror’ circle, the casual arrangement of railway sleepers for clambering and the rocks and stones that half-shield the hobbit hole (from Orcs, presumably). There’s a richness of texture, tone and shape here, and (other than the bikes and trikes, which wouldn’t normally be here) most of the landscape, its features and the resources in it reflect the school’s intention to introduce more natural materials to children’s outdoor play and learning.
It’s unusual to see such an ambitious and such an obviously ‘designed’ landscape garden in a school, but this one reflects the needs of the children and staff and is clearly cared for and appreciated by all who use it. Collaborating with Timotay meant the school was able to influence the design right from the start, understanding and accepting the maintenance implications and planning ahead for these. For Helen, the only thing she’d change if they did the project again would be the surface of the path, which coupled with the hilly nature of the site, makes wheely toys very difficult to manoeuvre. However, she recognises that the garden wasn’t designed with these toys in mind, and once the youngsters have their own early years space back, it won’t be an issue.
School is already exploring ideas for another grand playscape around the new early years unit and I plan to be back in a year or two to see how they get on.
Director, Play Learning Life CIC
Find out more about this pre-school at http://www.lund.se/Forskolor/Forskola-Holken/
This is what they told us about what they have been doing and will be doing during May.
During spring we have been talking and learning about the cycle of nature. In may we´re going to construct a small garden where the children are going to plant flowers, potatoes and carrots.
We´re also going to plant sweet peas in used milk cartons.
We have taken pictures of different animals and flowers that we have found in our preschool-ground. We have put the pictures in laminating-sheets and then we have put them in our preschool ground so all children and teachers can look at them.
The village of Siankhor in the Shigar valley, sits on the road to Askoli, the starting point to treks in Pakistan's Karakorum mountain range. It is home to the Abruzzi Higher Secondary School.
Visit www.abrizzischoolgarden.com to learn about the history of the school and in particular its teaching garden.
This year they will be marking International School Grounds Month. Class 6 and 7 have been designing and planting fruit trees, vegetables, flowers and a compost bin in their allotted space in the garden. Their garden activity focuses on English and Math respectively.
The 2013 International Green School Ground Conference, hosted by Evergreen and the International School Grounds Alliance, will be held in Toronto, Ontario, Canada on September 23-25, 2013! We have received a lot of great stories, project information and ideas for the conference. Thanks to those who have sent them along to us and please keep the ideas coming!
At this time Evergreen is soliciting speaker applications, as described below. This information is also posted on the Conference website.
We hope you will join us at this exciting event. Please help to spread the word around the world!
REQUEST FOR SPEAKERS
Evergreen, in partnership with the International School Grounds Alliance, is soliciting applications for speaker presentations for the 2013 International Green School Ground Conference. If you would like to grow professionally, meet interesting people and share your stories, please apply to speak at the conference. For speaker opportunities and information please email firstname.lastname@example.org