Back to School – Back to Nature
June 24, 2020 \ Education
by multiple authors
As schools ramp up their planning for a full return next term, we have been helping clients test how their buildings can operate in different ways. The advice varies across the UK and is changing week by week, how can schools plan for a safe return in this fluid situation? While the situation remains so uncertain perhaps the best approach is to have a range of scenarios that can be implemented at short notice. The basic exercise of applying social distancing at different spacing is relatively straightforward. The complexity comes from the need for managing interaction and movement between children and teachers and the degree of contact with surfaces and equipment. Staggering timetables can relieve pressure on numbers moving at any one time and colourful graphics to direct one-way systems can make new systems clear and friendly for children. Cleaning regimes and restricted use of shared resources can help reduce the risk further.
“The bigger challenge is perhaps overcoming the anxiety and uncertainty the Covid-19 crisis has brought to our communities, feeling safe in each other’s company and creating an environment in schools that allows for playful, creative learning.”
While it is critical that we protect the health and safety of our school communities, both in and out of school, perhaps we need a pressure release valve to balance those necessary measures? Many of us have felt a stronger connection to the outdoors during the lockdown. The permitted daily exercise has been a chance to escape from screens and confined spaces and appreciate nature anew. Can schools make better use of their outdoor space and embrace nature?
Our education team has been researching two seemingly contrasting studies for Back to School and Back to Nature. In a way they represent opposite ends of a spectrum, applying the ever-changing government guidance on space and movement to our indoor spaces and capturing the feeling of escape and freedom that spending time in nature can bring.
The idea of connecting education to nature is not a new one. At the end of the nineteenth century, concerns about the speed of industrialisation and unhygienic living conditions for many in the city, led to the rise of modernist thinking and specifically to the open-air schools’ movement across Europe.
As we look beyond the current crisis, can we learn from the lockdown experience, invite nature into our building design, and allow learning to break out of the classroom into nature? We know time in nature can play a key role in fostering resilience. Abundant research makes clear that spending time outdoors can enhance memory and cognitive function, reduce stress and improve creative thinking and problem solving.
“It is more important than ever that we connect our education buildings to nature and its restorative benefits. As designers we can play a role in advocating that change.”