school grounds design for outdoor learning

School grounds are among the most under-developed spaces in our settled landscapes.  These ultimate learning environments should be the most beautiful, inspirational, radiant, well maintained and cared for places around us.  How are we going to accept our responsibilities for environmental management and ecological awareness if children cannot learn the patterns of nature by being in direct contact with it?

All positive lifelong connections to the natural world are formed in the early years (1,3,5). To make sense of the majesty and beauty of the earth itself, children need to spend time growing up in outdoor places (2,3,6): and see the changes that seasons bring; to observe spontaneously the diversity and interactivity of plants and animals; and to respond sensually to the world of grass, trees and plants.

These foundations for life can be gathered in the gardens outside our homes.  But if there is no garden, then our schools can fill this void. 

In fact, it’s a great idea to have awe inspiring gardens and landscapes in schools for all sorts of other reasons too. These special places can be:

  • interactive learning environments;
  • efficient and excellent play areas;
  • conducive to exploring friendship and relationships with peers;
  • cultural centres imparting positive messages to community;
  • the places where a sense of belonging can magnify unknowingly.

If we consider the diverse range of community and influence a school has, we can say that school grounds are the ultimate democratic landscapes – a reflection of landscape, people and their culture.  As well as offering ownership, pathways to self-confidence and delight in beauty!

There are not many places around us where a consensus of people can transform a site into something magical and meaningful within a short time frame – but in school grounds, we can do this.  A school community using planning, insight and skill can create their Garden of Eden where local children can grow and bloom.

While outdoor provision in many schools has increased and got better in recent years, this can still be vastly improved. 

School grounds are the only places in our landscapes specifically set aside for children to spend a certain amount of time while they are growing up.  By making these places special, by taking to the limit our creative endeavours in landscape transformation, and to recognise the inherent connectivity in a network archipelago of school Gardens of Eden, we can revitalise our dormant synergy with the earth, educate and inspire a new generation and infuse community connections.


  1. Edward O Wilson Biophilia, Massachusetts, Harvard Uni Press 1984
  2. Edward O Wilson Biophilia and the Conservative Ethic in The Biophilia Hypothesis, Kellert & Wilson (eds), Washington D.C., Island Press, 1993.
  3. Nelson, R., “Searching for the Lost Arrow: Physical and Spiritual Ecology in the Hunter’s World”, The Biophilia Hypothesis
  4. Wilson, Ruth A., Ph.D., “The Wonders of Nature – Honoring Children’s Ways of Knowing”, Early Childhood News, March/April 1997.
  5. Sobel, David, Beyond Ecophobia: Reclaiming the Heart in Natural Education, Great Barrington, MA, The Orion Society, 1996
  6. Hart, Roger. A., Children’s Participation: The Theory and Practice of Involving Young Children in Community Development and Environmental Care, London, UK, Earthscan Publications, 1997.