Learnscapes trial in Schools
General Prescription of the Project
If you want to design new atmospheres of teaching and learning, join the Learnscapes trial in schools. Make your community more closely involved in your school activities and provide students with an empowerment to take part in enjoyable and practical learning activities in a more pleasant and sustainable environment.
Currently in a number of Australian, American and European school grounds are being redesigned to permit children, teachers and their communities to interact with their environment. They are designing outdoor quiet places, where reading can take place. They build up pioneer huts to celebrate cultural diversity. Or they plant forests for exploring bio-regional distinctions or herb- and vegetable gardens for personal use or the school kitchen.
Learnscaping is more than a school beautification project. It is a means of implementing environmental education across the curriculum and a step to deeper co-operation between schools and their communities to fulfil the concepts of the regional ecological sustainable development.
Students and teachers are active participants in the planning crew to develop ownership of a learning environment which will facilitate continued, collaborative and long term planning for your school´s future.
Background to Learnscapes
How Learnscapes became an ENSI Project
Learnscapes is an experiential learning activity which enables students, teachers and the community to plan for an open area learning space in or near a school’s grounds. At the same time sustainability issues are considered during the planning and implementation stages of the project.
A learnscape is a place where a learning program has been designed to permit users to interact with an environment. It may be natural or built, interior or exterior and related to any learning area(s) that the school wishes to implement.
The origin of Learnscapes possibly goes back to a project known as Learning Through Landscapes which began as a gardening program in Wiltshire, UK to help schools and early childhood centres make the most of their outdoor spaces for play and learning. Their current philosophy is that school grounds are essential to children’s learning and development, providing opportunities for healthy exercise, creative play, making friends, learning through doing and getting in touch with the natural world. They believe all children have the right to enjoy and benefit from well designed, managed and used school grounds. A global conference promoting Learnscapes was held in Winchester in the late 1990s. From this developed a UNESCO document. In 1994 at an international Australian Association for Environmental Education Conference in Hobart, a representative of the Learning Through Landscapes Trust inspired a principal, Helen Tyas Tunggal to establish her own Australian company known as The School Learnscapes Trust. Syd Smith who was the manager of the Environmental Education Unit in the NSW Department of Education and Training at the time introduced it as a project to NSW schools to facilitate the implementation of the newly released Environmental Education Policy for Schools (2001). Learnscapes was given more international prominence after a conference in the UK in 2005 prepared a report for OECD.
In 1998 Syd Smith, then a member of the ENSI Executive took the project to ENSI where four countries took it up and made adjustments to the model to suit their respective cultures and school systems. In the following years Australian schools partnered with schools in Austria, Norway, Finland and Germany sharing their ideas and outcomes and exchanging cultural strategies with each other. A workshop and conference was held in 2001 in Reichenau, Austria to share the outcomes and strategies of Learnscapes projects held in Europe and Australia. Australian school representatives, landscape architects, curriculum experts and academics also attended the conference. During this same period, Johannes Tschapka completed a detailed research study on Learnscapes, finally leading to his award of a PhD.
How a Learnscape Project Works
Learnscapes Projects provides many benefits to schools and communities:
- They are action based and support experiential learning
- They encourage collaborative decision making and co-operation
- They support sustainable living and improvements to a local environment
- They provide outdoor classrooms for learning in the real world
- They provide a venue for a better environment for the future
The Learnscapes Program has improved over time but the original model followed a set sequence of activities:
- Students, teachers and parents help to map the school grounds, marking in major features and names of well known landmarks and places
- Students develop a series of maps showing main wind directions, compass points, sun and shade in winter and summer, major communication lines, power lines, sewer mains, main foot traffic pathways, contours, trees, physical features etc
- Students and teachers conduct a brainstorm preparing a wish list of how they would like to enhance the quality of their school grounds
- Parents and community groups meet to brainstorm their wish list
- Both groups meet to develop a combined set of priority changes to their grounds, considering at the same time costs, time line for completion, possible sponsorships, funding options and the source of expertise and resources from the community itself (e.g. there may be a landscape architect who will provide a free service)
- Final plans are presented on a professionally drafted map, ensuring associated learning programs are included and linked to the features and changes to be adopted
- Over time the process is evaluated and changes may need to be made. Developments may include sensory gardens, reading areas, vegetable plots, quiet shaded reading areas, exercise trails, nature trails, frog ponds, mini wetlands, tree houses etc