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Using strategic school design to maximise outdoor areas 

Simon Mitchell, Managing Director of Action Storage, explains why outdoor learning environments are now more important than ever

Posted by Lucinda Reid | July 21, 2017 | Outdoors

In a world increasingly reliant on technology, our children's connection with the outside world is changing. Where kids once rode through the streets on bicycles, they now sit indoors with iPads - it’s a symptom of our times, and it’s not going away anytime soon. The natural world is one that many of us feel a connection to but, as children become more and more disconnected from life outdoors, we move further from our roots. With early years children spending hours upon hours in school each year, the education system is at the forefront of the battle to rekindle their love for the outdoor world.

Saying that, the natural world is not the only reason we should be utilising our outdoor areas more effectively. As budgets thin and class sizes grow larger, it can be hard for schools to arm the everyday teacher with the tools that our children need to develop a broad range of skills which will set them up for the rest of their lives. 

Though many schools look inward when exploring diversified learning methods, looking outward presents a number of exciting opportunities to engage and enlighten students.

Play areas

Though we undoubtedly learn effectively while sat in classrooms, our learning experience extends far beyond the four walls we find ourselves inside at school. The first steps we take socially are often in the play area, where imagination can take hold and skills like problem-solving and risk assessment can develop in a controlled environment. Physically, children benefit from outdoor areas in a number of crucial ways: improving cardiovascular health, muscle strength and encouraging participation in sport. Many famous faces in the modern sports arena recall their love of sport first sparking in the playground - and almost all sports foster some elements of teamwork, strategy and physical fitness.

As one of the most important places for children to socialise, play area design offers endless possibilities when it comes to engaging young people both physically and mentally. A diverse outside space with equipment for all abilities will encourage even kids who are less physically inclined to participate with their peers in exercise. Having accessible equipment for children with special education needs provides equal opportunities for everyone to get involved, and sets a shining example to students by teaching a lifelong lesson in inclusivity. Problem-solving activities can be a fun yet challenging way to ensure children stay mentally active when they’re on their breaks - floor puzzles and other learning equipment that can be put away in storage can be utilised to make the most of outdoor play areas.

When combined, physical and mental stimulation can see playgrounds transformed from empty outside spaces into areas where children can develop key social, emotional and physical skills that will help serve them well in later life.

Outside storage

Despite British weather being notoriously unpredictable, there’s no reason functional storage can’t be utilised in outdoor areas to save space inside. With ongoing progress being made in the manufacture of tough, durable polyethylene materials, plastic school lockers enable schools to optimise outdoor areas by increasing the functionality of the outside space - ensuring that storage solutions are able to withstand even the most extreme weather conditions.

Whether they’re used as accessible storage for outdoor learning resources or students are assigned individual lockers to store their possessions securely, using outside areas for storage can free up room inside - where space is often at a premium to begin with.

Outdoor classrooms

Embracing the concept of outdoor classrooms involves accepting the fact that children are learning constantly - wherever they are, whatever they’re doing and whoever they’re talking to. Strategic school design is built on the objective of creating the most functional, open and inviting learning environments for students to take part in - and outdoor classrooms offer the ideal solution in this respect. On top of the aforementioned physical and mental benefits, enhancing underutilised outdoor spaces diversifies the learning environment for kids - improving concentration, broadening their knowledge with hands-on experience and building on soft skills in a practical environment.

The greatest advantage of an outdoor learning area is the amount of open space available for children to use. Where open space can sometimes be hard to come by in indoor classrooms, a larger, more accommodating area removes these limitations. It is, however, important to consider that keeping control becomes more difficult in these uncontained environments.

Clever outdoor classroom designs have ranged from yurts and wigwams to bug examination stations and treehouses - all of which offer a tranquil, tucked-away space for learners to become engaged with learning in a controlled environment. For schools interested in the educational, psychological and physical benefits of outdoor classrooms, funding can often be found through outdoor education schemes through which financial support and advice are available.

With indoor space remaining at a premium, public school funding continuing to thin and a growing chasm forming between children and the outside world, our outdoor areas are now more important than ever when it comes to teaching our children the life skills that are vital for their development. As new technology and innovations are rolled out, utilising our open spaces has become an easier, cheaper and more reliable prospect - and it’s up to our schools to seize this opportunity.

For more information, visit Action Storage’s website.

 

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