School playground design

We design school grounds and outdoor learning environments

Innovative outdoor learning environments for schools

School grounds are unique public places provided especially for children and young people to spend a particular period of time while they are growing up. The design, management and maintenance of school grounds impacts on children’s behaviour both inside and outside of school.

Since 1997, we have worked with around 500 schools to inspire, plan, design and create these ultimate innovative outdoor learning environments for schools, kindergartens, early years settings, and other educational groups.

nature friendly school landscape design

Outdoor learning environments are vital in child development

Effectively designed and well managed school grounds result in very positive impacts on children and young people’s behaviour both inside and outside of school.

As a resource for outdoor learning, these special places can provide strong foundations for co-operation, respect, nature awareness and engaging with the vision, values, key competencies, learning areas and principles of the curriculum. They also convey key messages about children's place in the world, as explained in The Hidden Curriculum.

Check out our Photo Gallery for examples of our work.

school grounds design and natural playground design and build

What makes good school grounds?

While every school is unique there will always be common features which make up successful school grounds - generous gathering places, some play equipment, seating areas, sports facilities, attractive planting etc.

Then there are the less common areas which are relevant to particular schools: orchard, woodland and wetland planting; animal housing and pasture; quiet and sacred gardens; areas dedicated to the history of the school; labyrinths and mazes; and so on.

All of the above, however, can be linked under two all embracing headings: the radiating sense of place of a particular site; and the communication of the school's culture. Where these are effectively combined to positive effect, you will find outstanding examples of successful school grounds.

school grounds design outdoor learning environments

Workshops

Developing your school grounds into diverse outdoor classrooms and natural play areas with endless learning opportunities

We offer a practical one day workshop for primary, intermediate and early years on developing your grounds into diverse outdoor classrooms and natural play areas.

We also visit schools and coordinate  staff/class/community sessions which enlighten the process of engagement, site analysis, concepts, precedents, visioning, design etc. Further details, please get in touch.

school grounds design and build landscape consultancy
Harv 6
school grounds design and build
school grounds design and build
school grounds design and build

Harvington School 2000-2011

We worked closely with Harvington School and the staff over a long period to make a valuable resource for the school and the thousands of children who have passed through its gates.

Marcia Palmer, headteacher in the 1990's and early 2000's asked us to listen to the ideas of the children and create an adventure play area second to none.  Marcia was supported by current headteacher Helen Fishbourne, so there has been good continuity of the original vision for the school grounds.

The school grounds in 2000 consisted of a square of tarmac and a large grass field with a set of goal posts at either end.  The school had just inherited an extra piece of ground from a local landowner and a design layout was required.

The inspiration for the original design came from medieval urban design concepts laid out in Gordon Cullen's Concise Townscape - the central structure (often the market place), the focal point (usually the market cross or maypole) and the sequential journey (a clear pathway which follows a series of revelations related to the existing and emerging view).

There was no fixed play equipment and the football field was shrunk to a much smaller size.  A log edged pathway (the sequential journey) circumnavigated the whole school grounds, via a hazel tunnel arbor, a woodland walk, a mound with a tunnel underneath etc.,  all linking a series of circular spaces which became a covered shelter (the market place), and a seat with a flag pole and weather vane on top (the focal point).  The whole was set among trees and bushes.

Once the children saw the first concept design they were totally on board, sensing the endless possibilities of the various hide and seek/running and chasing games that could be played in such a landscape.

The central structure and surfacing was done by contract, earth and spoil provided from a new housing scheme, a concrete pipe was bought for the tunnel, and a local tree surgeon provided logs, woodchip and his hiab.  However, most of the work was actually done one Saturday when lots of parents, staff and children all turned up with tools and the dedicated enthusiasm to work hard for a few hours.  We had all the materials gathered and ready and all the targets were easily achieved.  The sense of camaraderie and the collaboration in a shared vision resulted in a huge feeling of goodwill at the end of the day - all those who took part will remember this special day for the rest of their lives.

The trees and plants agreed to fulfill their part and over the next few years grew accordingly.  There was very little maintenance but the project survived and a sense of place began to manifest.  In the early days, some children disappeared at breaks and did not come back to the classroom.  Marcia and Helen devised a zoning system whereby if a child did not come back at the bell, that child was only allowed on Zone 1 hard surface for the next week.  This had the extra effect of encouraging positive behaviour in the school.

Long story short - in 2010, Harvington School was offered a part of the old village allotments to extend their site.  They accepted the offer and asked us to work with them to construct an area for Forest Schools activities....in other words, more of the same.

There is still no fixed play equipment at the school.  The whole has become one large natural learning and play environment with a multitude of opportunities to be cooperative, collaborative and responsible - a great environment to nurture a new generation of well regulated adults!

The school has a consistent full roll of children; and currently has achieved an 'Outstanding in all areas' OFSTED report.

nature friendly outdoor learning design
Gathering free materials
Forest Schools design
natural playground design and build
Harvington playground view 2015 (Large)

Guiding your landscaping project from concept to completion

We'd love to work with you to create an amazing landscape together.

Contact us today for a free initial consultation and a clear overview of how we can help guide your landscaping project from concept to completion.

Phone: 03 553 0448