Feeds:
Posts
Comments

New international group forms to address an increasingly sedentary and risk-averse generation of children disconnected from nature.

BayTreeDesign_Schoolyard2_web.jpgGrowing school grounds movement gains international voice with formation of The International School Grounds Alliance.

Berkeley, California (April 24, 2012)  – Organizations working to enrich the lives of children through outdoor learning and play have a new global school ground network where they can turn for ideas and support.

Leaders in the school ground movement from Australia, Canada, Germany, Japan, Sweden, the United Kingdom, and the United States have formed the nonprofit International School Grounds Alliance (ISGA)(www.internationalschoolgrounds.org), which brings together a wealth of experience in the fields of school ground use, design, education and management around the globe. The ISGA invites like-minded organizations and professionals to become members and collaborate to nurture and grow the international movement to help schools make the most of learning and play opportunities on their grounds.

“Children around the world, growing up in very different environments and cultural settings, all need engaging childhood learning and play experiences for healthy development and enjoyment,” says ISGA co-founder Sharon Danks of Bay Tree Design in California. “The ISGA is not only a resource, but is also a call to action for teachers, parents, and students to go outside, improve their school grounds and explore the world first-hand.”

The ISGA believes that school grounds should:

  • provide powerful opportunities for hands-on learning
  • nurture students’ physical, social and emotional development and wellbeing
  • reflect and embrace their local ecological, social and cultural context
  • embrace risk-taking as an essential component of learning and child development
  • be open public spaces, accessible to their communities

The ISGA does this by:

  • focusing on the way school grounds are used, designed and managed
  • facilitating a dialogue about innovative research, design, education and policy
  • fostering partnerships between professionals and organizations across the globe
  • organizing international conferences, gatherings and other programs
  • advocating for student and school community participation in the design, construction and stewardship of school grounds
  • promoting the value of enriched school grounds as uniquely positioned, engaging environments for children

To commemorate the founding of the ISGA, the organization has launched a website (www.internationalschoolgrounds.org) and just released a brief new inspirational video, entitled Voices from the International School Grounds Movement, which includes perspectives from leaders in the school ground movement and inspiring photographs of school grounds around the world. (www.greenschoolyards.org/blog).

Context

BayTreeDesign_schoolyard_web.jpgSchool grounds are crucial childhood landscapes, both in terms of the considerable time spent there and the messages to children (both explicit and implicit) that come from their design and care. They are located in almost every neighborhood, town and city around the world, and often act as important community gathering places in addition to their roles as places of learning and play during the school day. For many children, school grounds are the primary place they play outside—so what they experience there resonates with them and helps to shape who they are.

“In this rapidly urbanizing century, there has been a substantial erosion of children’s outdoor time both for play and learning in the space of a single generation. The reasons for this decline – as well as the negative repercussions – are numerous. With ISGA we want to address these issuesand reverse the trend.” says ISGA co-founder Cam Collyer of Evergreen in Canada.

In today’s world, children’s opportunities for outdoor learning and play in nature are disappearing around the globe, due to a variety of influences that include:

  • cities that are poorly designed for both children and natural systems
  • overprogrammed childhoods that leave children with little free time
  • powerful parental fears of “stranger danger” and an increasing fear of risk and liability
  • school grounds that are barren expanses with little to support children’s play and learning

BayTreeDesign_Danks_web.jpgISGA co-founder Mary Jackson of Learning through Landscapes in the United Kingdom says, “As research from around the world tells us, learning and play outside can have a truly positive impact on our children. Their results improve, they concentrate more in lessons, they develop their interpersonal and social skills and have improved mental and physical health. Already many schools around the world are seeing this is true as they develop and use their grounds for the benefit of children, but there is still a long way to go and we want to be able to share lessons learned with schools across the globe. The ISGA is a great way of sharing these lessons.”

Join the Movement!

We invite organizations and individuals to join us and declare their commitment to creating and caring for these special environments that support children and young people’s learning, play and wellbeing. Membership is free. Join the ISGA to help build this global movement:

The next ISGA conference will be hosted by Evergreen in Toronto, Ontario, Canada in Fall 2013.

For More Information

  • Please contact Sharon Danks at info (at) internationalschoolgrounds.orgor 510-644-1320
  • Inspiring, full color images of school grounds around the world are available upon request.

Top Ten Reasons to have

an Outdoor Classroom

 in Every Schoolyard

  1. Shifts educational focus from secondary to primary sources. Traditional classroom teaching uses textbooks, lectures, video and the internet as instructional tools. The Outdoor Classroom exposes students through direct experience to nature areas and demonstration models such as weather stations, water flow systems and renewable energy installations.
  2. Uses experiential teaching methodologies to engage students. The Outdoor Classroom fosters active, hands-on, inquiry-based learning in a real world setting. Through group problem-solving activities students embrace the learning process as well as seeking final outcomes.
  3. Makes learning a multi-sensory experience. By engaging the senses of touch, smell, hearing, taste and seeing, students retain an intimate physical memory of activities that are long lasting and synergistic. E. O. Wilson’s Biophilia Hypothesis reminds us that the human species, having evolved in the natural world, has a deeply-rooted need to associate and connect with nature.
  4. Fosters the use of systems thinking. As a mini-ecosystem, the Outdoor Classroom emphasizes the interconnectedness of all things. Through exposure to the intricate web of life, students come to understand that complex natural and societal systems often require holistic rather than linear solutions.
  5. Lends itself to inter-disciplinary studies. In seeking a holistic understanding of the outdoor classroom it is often necessary, and desirable, to employ multiple academic disciplines. Laying out a planting bed requires math skills. Distinguishing native from non-native plants provides an opportunity for social studies. Creating a scarecrow is an art project. A garden journal will foster writing and drawing skills.
  6. Recognizes and celebrates differing learning styles. As popularized in Howard Gardner’s Theory of Multiple Intelligences, people have a variety of aptitudes and ways of learning. Although some students thrive in a text-based environment, others will benefit from a more experiential approach. For example, ESL students, SPED students, and students where reading is not prioritized at home – those that comprise the so-called Achievement Gap – may contribute more in the Outdoor Classroom.
  7. Connects the school to the neighborhood and the world-at-large. Through learning and stewardship activities students come to understand that their schoolyard microcosm reflects global environmental issues. Proximity to the surrounding neighborhood often leads to service learning projects that emphasize social involvement and responsibility. Accessibility to the Outdoor Classroom provides opportunities for out-of-school time programming. High visibility and interest encourages local volunteerism.
  8. Design and installation is a modest capital expense. School systems often struggle with budgetary issues in prioritizing initiatives. The cost/benefit ratio for installing and sustaining an Outdoor Classroom is attractive and the goal of an Outdoor Classroom in every schoolyard is achievable.
  9. Projects a positive message about public education. Schoolyards can be degraded and unsafe or vibrant, dynamic school/community open spaces. Either way, we send a message to students and neighborhood about how much we value the education of our children. The Outdoor Classroom is a reminder that innovation is alive and well in public education.
  10. Blurs the boundaries between academic learning and creative play. Kids love the Outdoor Classroom. When a teacher asks who wants to go outside every hand is raised. Absenteeism goes down on Outdoor Classroom days. By preserving a child’s innate sense of curiosity and wonder we will foster active and engaged life long learners. Yes, learning can be FUN!