Inspiring Visit to Japan: Exploring the World through Our School Grounds

Conference participants at the International School Grounds Alliance’s conference in Yokohama, Japan.

Conference participants at the International School Grounds Alliance’s conference in Yokohama, Japan.

One of Green Schoolyards America’s closest partners is the International School Grounds Alliance (ISGA), a global network of organizations and individuals working to enrich children’s learning and play by improving the way school grounds are designed and used.

Every year or two the ISGA holds an international conference in a different part of the world. In November 2018, the ISGA’s 7th conference was held in Yokohama, Japan and was directed by Dr. Ko Senda, Associate Professor at Tsurumi Junior College (and in our opinion, one of the best designers of children’s environments in the world!). The conference was called Exploring the World through Our School Grounds. Green Schoolyards America’s CEO, Sharon Danks, is one of ISGA’s co-founders. She participated on the conference planning committee and was honored to share our work in Japan during the event’s international symposium.

Sharon Danks shared Green Schoolyards America’s work at the international symposium in Japan.

Sharon Danks shared Green Schoolyards America’s work at the international symposium in Japan.

During the conference, participants were treated to inspiring keynote talks, workshops, and tours and spent time with colleagues from Japan and many other countries. The schoolyards that participants toured were absolutely phenomenal, and included preschool environments where hundreds of children engage in hands-on learning and play by climbing trees, swinging on ropes, digging in sand boxes, and balancing on creatively-designed play elements.

Preschool children play in the lush and exciting green schoolyard at Miyamae Kindergarten in Japan.

Preschool children play in the lush and exciting green schoolyard at Miyamae Kindergarten in Japan.

Preschool children at Miyamae Kindergarten explore an area of their school grounds that includes a variety of challenging tree houses and forts built in and among a small forest grove on a hillside.

Preschool children at Miyamae Kindergarten explore an area of their school grounds that includes a variety of challenging tree houses and forts built in and among a small forest grove on a hillside.

At many schools, the buildings—as well as the grounds—were designed in a very child-centered manner that included rope climbing nets and other interactive elements that were built into the structure of the school buildings, giving children a very three dimensional experience of their classrooms and gathering spaces inside the schools.

Conference participants explored the multi-purpose room at Yotsukaido Satsuki Kindergarten in Japan, designed by Environment Design Institute. This beautiful gathering space includes playful elevated catwalks around the perimeter, a rope net tunnel across the ceiling, and a whole wall that opens up on days with nice weather to create an indoor-outdoor performance space.

Conference participants explored the multi-purpose room at Yotsukaido Satsuki Kindergarten in Japan, designed by Environment Design Institute. This beautiful gathering space includes playful elevated catwalks around the perimeter, a rope net tunnel across the ceiling, and a whole wall that opens up on days with nice weather to create an indoor-outdoor performance space.

A view of the autumn landscape at Akitsu Elementary in Japan. The green schoolyard at this school includes a large rice paddy, a wetland/pond ecosystem, shade trees, fruit trees, grassy play spaces, rolling hills, group seating, and parent-built play elements.

A view of the autumn landscape at Akitsu Elementary in Japan. The green schoolyard at this school includes a large rice paddy, a wetland/pond ecosystem, shade trees, fruit trees, grassy play spaces, rolling hills, group seating, and parent-built play elements.

A custom-designed play environment at Kohoku Kindergarten in Japan nestled in the trees invites children to explore, climb, slide, and create their own games in and around this unique play structure.

A custom-designed play environment at Kohoku Kindergarten in Japan nestled in the trees invites children to explore, climb, slide, and create their own games in and around this unique play structure.

At the conference, Susan Humphries (center), who was the principal of The Coombes School in England for more than three decades, received a lifetime achievement award for her work as a pioneer in the global green schoolyard field. She is shown here with six members of ISGA’s Executive Committee from the USA, UK, Sweden, Canada, and Japan.

At the conference, Susan Humphries (center), who was the principal of The Coombes School in England for more than three decades, received a lifetime achievement award for her work as a pioneer in the global green schoolyard field. She is shown here with six members of ISGA’s Executive Committee from the USA, UK, Sweden, Canada, and Japan.

Green Schoolyards America greatly values our relationships with like-minded colleagues and organizations around the world. Their thoughtful, elegant, and impactful work continually enriches our overall approach and broadens our perspective. We are honored to partner with the ISGA to build an international movement in this field, and to add our voice to a wider call to connect children with nature every day at school.

The ISGA’s next conference will be held in Scotland in September 2020. We hope you will join us and add your voice to the growing global chorus of green schoolyard advocates! Please visit the ISGA’s website for more information.