Engaging Our Grounds conference director, Sharon Danks, recently had the pleasure of interviewing Mary Jackson, Development Manager for Learning through Landscapes, based in Winchester, England. Mary and her colleague, Julie Mountain, will be giving a presentation about their organization’s work at our conference in mid-September. Their presentation will discuss Learning through Landscapes’ outstanding programs and projects in more detail, while showing the audience colorful slides of these school grounds in action. We hope you can join us!
Sharon Danks: Learning through Landscapes (LTL) has been working in the school ground field for more than twenty years. Can you tell me more about your organization’s mission and approach to this topic?
Mary Jackson: LTL’s vision is that every child benefits from outdoor learning and play throughout their education. We do this in a number of ways: by influencing policy makers, by undertaking research, by supporting schools and early years settings through membership, training and conferences, publications and through a range of programmes. We also train and support those who work directly in schools themselves and we have a network of approximately 100 accredited professionals who we have trained and quality assured who deliver advisory visits, training and programmes on our behalf.
Sharon Danks: Can you tell me about the schools you serve?
Mary Jackson: We serve schools throughout the UK – and also have some overseas members who receive our resources online. In Scotland we are known as Grounds for Learning and in Wales LTL Cymru. Our head office is in Winchester but we also have an office in London. We work in all educational settings for children aged 0 to 19 so that can include nurseries, children’s centres and even child minders based in their own homes, and schools – both private and state funded.
Sharon Danks: What types of programs is Learning through Landscapes working on now?
Mary Jackson: We always have a range of programmes running at any time. One of our key programmes at the moment is called Fruit-full Schools and is all about recreating traditional orchards in school grounds. We have started by working with secondary schools where pupils have learnt how to graft different varieties onto rootstocks and have just completed their designs for their orchards. At the other end of the age range we are just starting a programme for a group of early years settings to develop music making in their outdoor spaces – incorporating music into their everyday practice. Whilst in Scotland there are projects focusing on natural play, in England we are working with Play England and South Gloucestershire Council to run two events also focusing on play in primary schools.
Sharon Danks: How do schools in the UK integrate their curricula with the outdoor environment around them?
Mary Jackson: Some UK schools are great at incorporating the outdoors into their delivery of the curriculum – but many still have some way to go, we are by no means perfect! All early years settings have to use the outdoors to deliver the Early Years Foundation Stage which is a play-based curriculum for that age group. So there is a lot of really good practice in this sector – from den building and water play, to creating large art works outside. A lot of early years settings are also incorporating forest skills into their practice – often through the Forest Schools Programme. In primary schools we’ve seen some really creative work outside; rocket science, lots of pond work and with what we call minibeasts (beetles, bugs, spiders etc), creative writing outdoors, quiet contemplation and some lovely arts projects. Secondary schools find this all a bit harder – with constraints from the curriculum and less cross-curriculum work, however, where they do get outdoors some of their ideas are excellent. We know of schools teaching parallax outside, more rocket science, forensic science, looking at pollution, and yet more great art works too. We’ve seen rivers created in both primary and secondary school grounds and many sensory features in special schools in particular. In addition the process of developing school grounds is a great opportunity for delivering many aspects of the curriculum – whether writing questionnaires, measuring out the site or costing the price of work to be done.