Outdoor play can help pupils’ health, behaviour and concentration – Juno Hollyhock, Executive director at Learning Through Landscapes (LTL) outlines some great ways to use your space effectively. Whether it’s for learning, play or just to create a nicer environment (preferably all three) there are many things you can do to improve your school grounds.
1. Rethink your topography
If you have the funds to indulge in a little light landscaping, features such as mounds and hollows will increase your square footage and provide rich natural additional learning resources – while also serving as a unique landscape for play and recreation.
2. Accommodate your trees
Start seeing your trees and buildings as lesson resources, rather than objects that just get in your way. Activities involving angles, textures, history and creative writing can encourage pupils to find inspiration in the surrounding built and planted environment.
3. Sit comfortably
Sawn-off logs and tree trunks are perfect for creating small group teaching spaces, circle time activities or amphitheatre-style seating. They can be left out all year round, stacked away when you need extra space and used in the wet with plastic sheeting.
4. Cultivate wildlife
Wildlife is attracted to spaces that provide them with the habitats they need to survive. Ensure your growing plots include fragrant fruit and veg that attract pollinators, and you’ll help to attract bird life and insect species, as well as improve the success of your crops.
5. Embrace multifunction
Since the protection of statutory amounts of space per child in was removed in 2012, school grounds have been encroached upon for development, additional classrooms, car parking and other purposes. Make the most of what you have and utilise it to the fullest.
6. Embed pedagogy
Don’t just use your outdoor space for ‘one-off’ lessons in summer; use it to enhance pupil outcomes all year round by embedding outdoor activities in your school development plan, line management, ongoing CPD, recruitment expectations and appraisals.
7. Work out the cost
Even a bare field or tarmac space will instantly offer access to wildlife, textures, surfaces, sounds, smells and space that can’t compare with a classroom. You can then add elements such as planting facilities for biodiversity study and growing food for a relatively modest investment.
8. Assess the risk
Using your school grounds to pursue outdoor learning opportunities will involve fewer health and safety risk factors than going off site. Risk assessments should still be carried out for all non-classroom based activities, but you can keep these on file as you re-use them in future.
9. Build staff confidence
Taking teaching and learning outside will come more naturally to some teachers than it will to others. Some will have come through initial teacher education routes that don’t provide training in this area, so it may be necessary to provide them with some CPD.
10. Make it accessible
Include a transition space where pupils can remove coats and muddy boots before entering the clean corridor; place an outdoor water tap in a convenient place to avoid the need for repeated traipsing; invest in a small shed for storing frequently used outdoor lesson resources.