The arrival of the health pandemic and the atypical return to school that we have experienced this year forced all Spanish schools to rethink the use of school spaces. So much so that the vast majority of schools have been forced to look for alternatives due to the need to find outdoor spaces and increase the distance between children in order to achieve health conditions more appropriate to this situation.
However, this approach to space is not new. In fact, space as a third educator is an idea that was already being considered by some educational methodologies such as Montessori or Reggio Emilia pedagogy and which is becoming increasingly widespread. Along these lines, Loris Malaguzzi, the father of the Reggio Emilia methodology, said that "the classroom jumps the school wall", which implies opening up the learning space to the outside world.
This philosophy is closely related to methodologies along the lines of project-based learning and also to the so-called learning-by-environment methodology. This methodology of learning by environments, which is also sometimes known as learning by scenarios or even learning landscapes methodology, links very well with the idea of looking for new environments or new scenarios that have not traditionally been used at an educational level, such as outdoor spaces. But we must bear in mind that the environment does not only refer to the physical space, but the concept of environment also evokes the relationships generated by certain spaces depending on the materials we include in them, the reactions they provoke... this is the concept of environment, which is much more complex than that of space.
Moreover, all this is linked to the methodological change that has recently been taking place in our educational system, moving from more traditional methodologies, of a transmissive type, to active methodologies where the role of the child and the educator change, in such a way that the child is playing an increasingly active role.
Thus, and in accordance with our innovative spirit, at St. George's British International School we have contacted Mar Martínez who has a PhD in Educational Sciences, is a child psychologist, university teacher and, in addition, an expert in the methodology of learning by environments.
She explains that "there is a lot of research on the need for children to spend more time outdoors. It is curious to see how in a country like ours, with the wonderful climate we have, this is done so little. Whereas, in some northern countries with infinitely harsher climates in terms of cold, it is common for children to spend a large part of the school day outdoors. And there is very interesting research that even talks about how it improves children's health: how it improves the immune system; how it helps on an emotional level; even how children with attention or impulsivity problems also benefit; and for example, it is also known that it considerably reduces the frequency of conflicts between children themselves. We can therefore say that there is very serious and rigorous research that supports the need for children to spend more time outdoors.
In addition, Martínez gives us a series of key points to bear in mind when it comes to transforming outdoor spaces if we want to make them more habitable educational spaces.
- Renaturalisation of the playground: eliminate asphalt and rubber and opt for more natural elements such as vegetation, earth, etc.
- Organic design: try to introduce more natural materials, even for the furniture, such as using a lot of tree trunks to serve as seats, tables, structures for playing, climbing, stones, rocks... opt more for the organic and not so much for plastic.
- Functionality: they have to be very functional playgrounds in order to be able to take part of the curriculum work outside, so we need elements and/or furniture that are versatile to allow us, for example, to create different groupings, etc. And that they are elements that can have different functions depending on the needs.
- Accessibility that guarantees that any member of the educational community can access and enjoy it.
- They should be multi-purpose places in terms of a diversity of proposals. It is interesting that there should be different environments that allow for different proposals. Or that, depending on the moment, children can choose what they need most. It is interesting, for example, that there are areas of refuge, more intimate... Others more open... It is also important for psychomotor development that it is not all smooth, flat, but that there are even small hills where even the smallest children have to put their motor skills into play. In other words, there should be micro-environments within the playground or larger stage.
- Reintroduction of traditional games: we have already seen in some schools that have eliminated the goals that exclude the rest, especially girls, to the edges and replaced them with much more traditional games that are even painted on the ground with chalk and how other types of relationships between boys and girls are promoted. They are also, for example, more co-educational playgrounds.
Finally, we should not forget that this is an approach based on developing the curriculum outdoors and not only in the playground, but also in other resources that may be close to the school, such as parks, squares... In short, it is a question of overcoming the school wall and opening up to the outside world to develop a large part of the curriculum outdoors.