The time has come to build new visions for school grounds. If we value authentic experiences for children, we would not lock up the schoolyard and drive the children inside. We would design their school environment to connect them to the richness of their world, to nature and the landscapes that we know reflect their interests and make meaning for them.
The school ground is a prime resource for all schools and traditionally its development has been for sport and gymnastic play. Schools on the whole make good provision for these needs of the child but the school ground has always been more than ovals and climbing frames.
Teachers have always known the value of a walk in the outdoors to collect or observe something in nature and have made good use of the schoolyard for their own purposes. And children have always used the playground for their lunchtime adventures among the natural features of the landscape. It is their outdoor classroom because learning also happens in the schoolyard. Children are learning all the time.
We take the wisdom of age-old practices to create visions of grounds that fulfil the needs of teachers, to find in the school landscape a natural diversity to enhance the development of the child’s environmental awareness through actual contact with the elements of that landscape.
These same landscapes can serve the needs of the child to play in natural areas among the plants and in the soil, to play creatively and safely, developing through their own resources, their own environmental awareness.
The schoolyard is an important place for the young and it can hold more than we traditionally assign to it. Children love to play sport and climb on the playground equipment but the modern child may need more. It may fall upon schools to add an environmental quality to the playground in light of the deficient opportunities that the urban child has for such connection. For the health of the modern child and, it could be argued, the modern ecology, it may become the duty of educators to provide, on campus, the means for children to have quality outdoor experiences on a daily basis and the wisdom to use them as teaching and learning opportunities.
The issues of environmental awareness and quality are not unconsidered in the modern school. The naturalisation of the school ground and its use as a teaching site has begun through projects such as school gardens, learnscaping and revegetation programs. These have been important pioneer activities in building a vision that school grounds can be developed for educational purposes, that grounds are a rich resource to support learning in curriculum subjects and that curriculum development and grounds development can be in partnership.
The call is for a new vision for school grounds - a new perception of how the grounds will look, what they will contain and how they will fit into the learning agenda.
Before going forward, it would be appropriate at this point to look at the history of the school garden and the forces that influenced its rise and fall over time. The following account is a brief explanation and I apologise to any whose contribution I have overlooked.