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Consultation, brainstorming and research
Before changes are made to a place used by many people, there must first be a period of consultation, brainstorming and research.
When discussing possible changes, remember...
Involving everyone right from the start gives people an equal chance to join in the consultation and planning processes. Making sure everyone is involved will help you to achieve the best results for your school including the long-term use and maintenance of the grounds.
Key to success
No single set of individuals can devise a plan to suit every aspect of a school's needs, but everyone can work together to come up with a collective vision.
The key to success is to balance everyone's input. Try to address all concerns and ensure that everyone's dreams are reflected in some way to help foster school and community ownership of the final design.
It is important to build flexibility into the overall plan to allow people who will be involved in the future to further develop your ideas and add their own.
Your school grounds story begins when you first start thinking and talking about making improvements. It is the start of an evolutionary process that should be allowed to unfold naturally over many years as new life grows on the grounds and new people take over the project. Your job as the initial school grounds transformers is to build a solid foundation for the project to grow on.
There are many projects to choose from. The combination of choices made by each school will be largely determined by the site itself. An inner-city school may be restricted to building raised beds on asphalt or roof-top gardening, while a suburban or rural school may have several acres of land available for creating wildlife habitat and tree-shaded social spaces. No matter how limited the space available for greening, it is always possible to maximize its potential.
The more diverse the approach, the greater the potential for integrating all areas of the formal, as well as the "hidden" curriculum.
The "Hidden Curriculum"
It is essential to pay attention to the "hidden curriculum" because it is one of the most important aspects of school grounds. The term is used to describe what people passively learn through their senses from messages they receive directly from their environments.
We continuously receive an enormous amount of information through our senses from our surroundings. We often have physical, emotional, rational and irrational, and conscious and subconscious reactions to, for example, colours, light, dark, sounds, noises, smells, speed, shapes, forms, heights, certain animals, and wide-open, enclosed, underground, crowded and empty spaces.
The hidden curriculum of school grounds is important because it has a powerful effect on children's behaviour and attitude. It affects their sense of safety, well-being, of being cared for and being respected and valued as well as their comfort, self esteem and interest in learning.
The question is: "What are they learning?"
Research shows that children use the lessons taught to them by their outdoor school environments to measure their own worth to the adults who design the spaces for them. Children read the lack of care and maintenance of the grounds as a reflection of their own lack of value to the school.
Often, the message conveyed and received is:
"Children, we don't care about you!"
Survey results show that the typical schoolyard teaches children that adults do
not care enough about them to create and maintain outdoor play and social spaces that are safe, caring, comfortable, healthy, colourful, interesting and enjoyable.
"First we make our environments and then they make us."
When we design environments for children, we are making environments that make the children. Spaces that are ugly, uncomfortable, unhealthy, uninteresting, uncaring and prison-like produce negative reactions among children. Spaces that recognize their needs generate positive responses.
A few decades ago, animals in zoos were displayed in cages and enclosures that ignored their need for natural habitat, interesting activities, places to forage, choice and privacy. Designing spaces without the animals' needs in mind resulted in aggressive behaviour, boredom, unhappiness, sickness and premature death.
Redesigning the spaces according to the animals' needs reduced aggression, boredom and unhappiness. The animals became emotionally and physically healthier and started to live longer. Some species were then found to breed more successfully in captivity.