Getting inspired; school grounds around the world

Mary Jackson, our Projects Manager, talks about what she has learnt from visiting school grounds around the world.

Over the years I have been incredibly lucky to have visited schools and settings in more than a dozen countries around the world. Every country does school grounds in a different way – depending on policy, conditions, budget, priorities and expertise. There is much to learn from all of them and every time I return to the UK I share with our team what I have seen. We try to ensure this feeds into our work with partners, schools and all interested in this field of work.

In the last couple of years I have visited cities in Germany and Japan where they take play and risk seriously. Each country has hosted an International School Grounds Alliance (ISGA) conference and as part of these conferences I have visited local schools and settings as well as hearing from designers, educationalists, play experts and researcher from those countries and around the world.

In Berlin and Yokohama I have seen an amazing array of play spaces with hills and trees to climb, ropes to swing on, bushes to hide under and places to learn new skills and develop confidence. Children as young as three years old have been climbing up towers of tyres or swinging on ropes hanging from trees, all with enthusiasm and courage. Throughout it all, they would be supported by skilled and knowledgeable practitioners, who often get as muddy as the children they work with.

One of the areas where learning from other countries is likely to impact on the UK more and more is climate change. Visiting countries and hearing about how they deal with hot temperatures and storm water will enable us to help schools as these factors become more of a reality in the UK.

The ISGA has helped with this spread of knowledge between countries. As well as conferences, it runs International School Grounds Month each May – linking to Outdoor Classroom Day – with over 100 activities available to download from 73 different organisations from five continents. The ISGA risk declaration has also proved an important document and has influenced governments and school grounds as far away as California and Brazil. As an organisation we are currently looking at the best way to train our next generation of Landscape Architects: we can only do that by working together.

In September 2020 there will be a fantastic opportunity for us to share the great work that is already happening in the UK with our overseas colleagues as well as for those of us from the UK. Learning through Landscapes is working with some of our Scottish partners to host the ISGA conference in Stirling where we will be bringing together the best schools, settings and experts from Scotland with leading figures from around the globe. If you would like to know more and register your interest in this event please visit the conference website.

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