The way centre grounds are developed, used and managed can have a significant impact on children’s attitudes and behaviour towards school, each other, the wider environment and society. Children can spend a considerable amount of their time in the centre grounds and so it’s important that the experiences they have there are the best and most positive they can be.
Children interpret the condition of their surroundings as a reflection of the value adults place on the environment and on themselves, as they are the main users. If children are taught to value and take care of the environment, but then see grounds which are poorly cared for, this will convey mixed messages. In order for your Eco-Schools projects to support what is said inside the classroom, practical ideas need to be applied outside. These could include recycling and composting in the grounds, introducing native plant species to encourage wildlife, using recycled materials for creating elements within the grounds or maintaining the grounds using organic methods.
School grounds are also rich in heritage and can be a source of inspiration for learning about changes in society, why and how these have happened and their impact on the environment. The Early Years Foundation Stage (EYFS) also encourages children to explore and learn about the natural world and their surroundings. In order to learn outside, children need their grounds to be developed and managed accordingly. The centre grounds can be designed and used as a setting for a broad range of lessons and activities – using the outdoors to teach small groups or a whole class. This requires suitable places for children to gather, seating for different sizes of groups, shade and shelter from the sun, wind and rain, seating that is created for the young people who are going to use it and appropriate for how it is to be used.
Whilst children can learn about the outdoors through books, videos and the internet, younger children especially will learn much more if they can have practical experiences and get their hands dirty. They will remember the mini-beasts they are discovering if they get to handle them rather than just looking at pictures. They will understand how the sun moves around the sky creating different shadows at different times of year and day if they see it happen in their own immediate environment.
Schools grounds for Early Years
Play and lunchtimes are very important to children. Children’s centres provide opportunities for children to play a variety of games and to interact with other children and adults in a variety of ways. These games can be active, thoughtful, creative or social in nature; and all of these different aspects need to be accommodated and the grounds developed in such a way as to support this.
Many centre grounds projects can link closely with other Eco-Schools topics. Consider joining healthy eating and centre ground topics together to create an eco-garden. Work with the children to create a garden in the centre grounds – this can vary depending on the size of the centre and space available. Consider asking parents or wider community members to help – there are a huge number of organizations, both regional and national, which can offer help. Ask the children what plants they would like to grow, perhaps carrots, broccoli or even fruit trees. Once the produce is ready for harvest, explain to the children how important it is to eat fruit and vegetables – perhaps they could even take some home for their parents.
If the centre grounds are not suitable for an eco-garden, why not ask the children to help planting hanging baskets or use old car tyres and plant flowers in them? The children could help to paint the tyres a variety of colours and observe the local wildlife they attract.
Activities such as these can help children work towards a variety of EYFS learning goals such as:
Finding out about and identifying features in the place they live and the natural world
Finding out about their environment and talking about those features they like and dislike
Recognising the importance of keeping healthy and those things which can contribute to this
Showing curiosity and interest by exploring surroundings
Investigating places, objects, materials and living things by using all the senses as appropriate.
The Resources & Links section provides details of organisations that can help you improve your school grounds.