Saules Gojus – The New School Year Starts Outside

26 August 2014 · 9 comments

in Developing School Grounds & Outdoor Spaces, Early Years Outdoors, International

Post image for Saules Gojus – The New School Year Starts Outside

Saules Gojus is a remarkable school based just outside Vilnius, the capital city of Lithuania. Established in 2004 by Laima Sirutiene, it is a vision of education which recognises the value of humanity and learning from each other. German and English are spoken in addition to Lithuanian. International partnerships are actively sought, developed and celebrated.

SG Old House One of the founder’s, Andreas Rodenbeck has been proactive in developing the school’s approach to sustainability. The recent building extension to the old school house is a straw bale construction. Careful attention to natural lighting and creating a feeling of calm spaciousness was evident. I liked the straw feature in this toilet which serves to remind users of the nature of the building.

SGI Straw construction

Their curriculum is grounded in real world experiences. Every year begins with a two-week immersion in the nearby forest. The classes set up their forest space with stumps for sitting, a campfire and toileting system. Some of the new youngest children may need to have their afternoon nap in the house, but otherwise, the whole day is outside. The use of tools and practical work is actively encouraged.

SG Forest

The outdoor area is spacious. On the day I visited there was building work in progress so I don’t feel I’m showing the place at its working best. Also it was the summer holidays – the numbers of children present were a lot less – just some of the kindergarten children. Naturally any school is in a state of flux and rest during the summer.

SG Outdoor Space

At the bottom of the garden, creating a nice link with the forest, is a planted orchard. These trees have been planted over the years by the children as part of a positive legacy. By this I mean that children should have the opportunity to leave a positive reminder of their time at school.

SG Orchard

The legacy is also an act of environmental stewardship and a reminder of our need to care for the land. In the photo below, Laima is standing under an oak tree planted by Zoe, the daughter of a mutual friend 8 years ago.

SG Zoe Tree

In the corner of the garden near the forest is the compost heap. Now this may sound strange but I was delighted to see such a creative approach. Forget a traditional bin. The material placed here is used as an informal bed to grow melons. Sadly this year, there’s not been enough rain for a good melon harvest.

SG Compost heap

Gardening is part of the curriculum and every year all children are involved in growing projects. The raised beds below are typical of many schools.

SG Raised Beds

However I liked that in other beds in front of the house, the plants had all been clearly labelled.

SG Sign

There is a fire pit in the outdoor space as well as several in the forest. What interested me is that the use of stone and the spaciousness feel of the feature! It creates a wide boundary which doubled up as seating space but which made the fire pit accessible.

SG Firepit

 Through observing how children behave outside and what engages them, it is possible to develop features which meet their learning needs. It is also interesting that these needs seem to cross cultural boundaries. Near the centre of the outdoor space is an artificial hill.

SG Hill

This was created because children loved to roll down it in the summer, sledge down it in winter and experience the joy of taking a deep breath and running down the slope too. Height matters to children and indoors, this was recognised as many of the teaching rooms had loft dens – and over the years these had increased in size too. The most recent taking up a good portion of the room.

SGI Platform

Every outdoor space needs a sand pit. Ideally, the bigger the better. This is another feature that meets children’s desires to discover, create, explore and invent. The parasols are an economic solution to providing shade in the summer months.

SG Sandpit

Indications of the outdoor ethos is evident inside too. The cloakroom areas are designed to cope with wet weather, mud and the realities of children traipsing in and out of the school.

SG Entrance

Each child has a 4-peg upright cubby for storing wellies, outdoor gear, accessories and spare clothes. There is one upright drier which easily suffices for the 100 children who attend the school. Big mats, handwashing facilities and lots of space add to this well-thought out area.

SG Cloakroom

The calm feel of the indoor rooms were apparent. Lots of wood and natural materials are present. Little touches like the corner below with the cork tiles, wooden numbers and registration tree all send the message that the real world beyond the walls is valued too.

SGI Name Tree

In order to avoid lots of holes in the walls, displays are attached either to the cork or to these trees. It is simply fine rods of wood nailed to the walls. As you can imagine, this lends itself nicely to seasonal work being displayed.

SGI Tree line

Finally there is a strong emphasis on the arts and creativity. The art teacher ensures that unwanted items and natural materials are used with bought resources kept to a bare minimum.

SGI Art

Saulas Gojus being fee-paying is unusual in Lithuania where almost all provision is state run. However, it would seem from my stay in Lithuania that it is those people who are setting up independent schools which are breaking the mould and encouraging positive changes within education system as a whole.

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{ 9 comments… read them below or add one }

Kierna August 27, 2014 at 19:15

From your photos this feels ‘Scandinavian’ especially the large hallway. Hope you’ll add this go the new Outdoor Play Party on Friday.

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Juliet Robertson August 28, 2014 at 05:10

Hi Kierna. You are correct to some extent. The main influence is German but the school is very international with lots of partnerships.

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Julia August 27, 2014 at 22:05

Thank you for this trip down memory lane. When we lived in Vilnius my daughter Zoe attended Saules Goyus a couple of days a week and I spend some time teaching English there too. I love what they do and the beauty they create and connect with nature. A truly creative, resilient and loving family place to be. I will be back!

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Juliet Robertson August 28, 2014 at 05:09

Thanks Julia for linking me up! The school even though many children were on holiday, oozed with calm happiness. It’s a remarkable achievement by Laima and her family.

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Adventure Togs August 31, 2014 at 15:57

What a lovely school and a great way to showcase how outdoor education can work. I really like the trees on the wall inside the classroom as well
#outdoorplayparty

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Juliet Robertson September 1, 2014 at 04:50

Agreed!

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Leila - Mud Mud Marvellous Mud September 8, 2014 at 13:14

This school looks amazing. I would love Little Man to attend somewhere like this. Not too much hope of that round here though. Thanks for sharing 🙂

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Meri Rosa Tognela March 11, 2017 at 16:55

This is my ideal school!!!! I teach in a small public primary school in the Italian Alps. It is a certified Eco School. My idea of school is fully in line with your philosophy. I’m trying to contaminate other teachers living in my area and your posts are a source of inspiration. Thank you for shearing.

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Juliet Robertson March 11, 2017 at 22:50

You are welcome – there are many schools around the world which share your philosophy! Don’t give up and do reach out!

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