Two and half years ago, I ran a course about outdoor learning on behalf of Grounds for Learning, the Scottish school grounds charity. It was a super event as the participants were interested and keen. A few months later, a request for a professional site visit came my way from Inverallochy School. One of the teachers, Pauline Smith, had attended the course and the school was keen to develop their school grounds.
Pauline’s words struck a memory-making chord with me. “How do you actually do it?” she asked, “We’re just not sure where to start.”
This is a very apt comment. Thousands of schools are in similar situations and fail to ask. I remember with my first school grounds development, asking a couple of local countryside rangers. In terms of wildlife and biodiversity, their ideas were good. However it turned out that these were random suggestions and not based upon prior experience of working with schools. The how is just as important that the what or the why. For this reason, contacting a school grounds charity can make a huge difference.
Financially it can save a school thousands of pounds especially as school grounds charities do not have an affiliation with any playground equipment manufacturer. Furthermore, the emphasis is on what children like to do outside and not what they want. This focus is integrated into the school’s vision for its grounds which normally goes well beyond playground equipment, to making best use of the space for learning and play.
Time-wise, school grounds professionals have knowledge, skills, resources and contacts at their finger tips which saves time searching. However most importantly, participative processes are used which meaningfully involve the children and whole school community. It about creating situations that ensure ongoing dialogue and input rather than one-off surveys or “school grounds days”. Ultimately this ensures that the developments are sustainable and become part of what the school just does instead of adding another ball into the juggling hands of school-based practitioners.
Very often playground manufacturers will offer a “full-service” and make the time to work with a school on developing an outdoor space. I have a feeling these services ultimately aim to ensure that you spend your cash on their products. I’ve yet to see such services take a holistic approach which considers the totality of the development process and continuous commitment to improving the school grounds. Also it is important to consider how the process will empower and enable the school community to make the changes and do this sustainably. In the words of KaBOOM! founder, Darren Hammond, it’s about “building a community through building a playground.”
Over the next few months, I’ll be sharing the process that Inverallochy used to develop their school grounds. It’s a work in progress but I think the photos in this post demonstrate that it did indeed continue to grow a community as well as the grounds.
All the photos in this post were taken by Eunice Stephen, HT at Inverallochy. Many, many thanks to the Eunice and Inverallochy School for sharing these photos and the account of their school grounds in the posts to come.