Checklist for outdoor learning
Is this a good space for outdoor learning?
This list compiles some of the most important aspects of designing outdoor learning spaces presented in arki_lab’s second book “The City as a Classroom”. Learning spaces are defined as every space that could frame a learning situation. The below listed aspects are relevant whether you want to investigate the potential of existing spaces or develop new spaces to better cater to outdoor learning.
First off, one has to think about how to actually get to the designated learning space. Especially if it’s meant to cater to school classes it’s important that the designated area is well connected with the schools or public transportation. It’s impractical if the perfect outdoor learning space is located on the other side of a dangerous road with no traffic lights or located in the middle of an inaccessible neighborhood. Hence, proximity is quite important too.
When getting there it’s crucial that there are places to gather. Having visually distinctive landmarks within the learning space makes it much easier to navigate in.
Outdoor learning spaces in cities will always be a part of a much larger urban context. Hence, it is important to be able to clearly distinguish what’s part of the learning space and what is not. Differences in pavings and other surfaces or finding more tangible borders such as hedges, trees and walls help create distinguishable spaces.
Different class structures
Lecture based teaching methods work well within conventional classrooms, whereas one of the great potentials of outdoor learning is the opportunity to work more individually or in groups. The spatial properties of outdoor learning spaces should support this by having more secluded areas where small groups can work undisturbed.
In sync with existing activities
Most urban spaces are not monofunctional but cater to a lot of different activities. Some functions better complement outdoor learning than others. One should have this in mind both when scouting places for outdoor learning and also when developing new spaces.
Some believe that learning and teaching environments have to be absolutely silent. As you won’t find a completely quiet space within the city, outdoor urban spaces should disqualify as learning spaces. Fortunately, that is not true. A calm atmosphere is much more important. A visually tranquil space can cancel out a lot of sensory inputs that would otherwise be interpreted as noise.
If a certain place should be used as a regular learning space, it is recommended that the users have a say in how the space is organized. The goal is that outdoor learning spaces should allow for a continuous co-design process. This enables the users to influence how the space is organized and which functions it caters to.
It is important that learning spaces are safe for children to use. Especially traffic poses a danger in urban settings and learning spaces, to some degree, should be shielded from heavy traffic. Likewise, the routes to outdoor learning spaces have to be safe to use.