Every day more than three million students go out for recess in the schools of our country. They leave their classrooms to socialize with others, to recreate, to play, to move, to breathe. For 15 minutes the recess area forms a landscape that the students compose in relation to the space that the school delineates for them. When this landscape is shaped for a good recess in which the students feel safe and respected, it is a learning landscape. On the contrary, when the recess is not good, there are problems of coexistence, fights and accidents, and as our guest columnist this week suggests, the role of landscape architecture becomes fundamental to reverse this situation.
The landscape for learning is understood as a space generated for educational communities, their culture, and the area in which the learning should take place and which is set up to be a place where that occurs. In schools, we find spaces that can be shaped as a landscape for learning.
We can say that a learning landscape is created when the territory promotes actions in the community that are related to education, the development of skills of those who inhabit it, and the acquisition of knowledge. This is an active and dynamic concept, since it is in constant change and is made up of the meeting of different actors and their relationship with the recess area.
In Chile, the vast majority of our schools are located in a territory that houses the educational building. However, the schoolyard has no intention and has remained a residual space within school architecture. In the vast majority of these spaces, it is possible to identify some type of area for sports constructed on cement, an area that has silenced the richness of the territory in which the school is located. On these hard cement areas, children play during the recess or wait for the time to pass; it is in these areas that students develop fundamental life skills. During recess in our schools, the children often play soccer, and generally there are three to five games at the same time, and almost always the children who play are boys. Other children run incessantly or invent games among themselves. Others sit in the hall waiting for the time to pass and recess to be over. The oldest ones sit on the stairs to continue talking. In this context, 33% of Chilean students say they feel insecure on the playground (1). Another statistic of interest indicates that more than 25% of students are overweight (2).
(1) National Survey of Violence in the School Setting (Chile, 2009)
(2) Obesity Update (2014).
Faced with this scenario, we believe that landscape architecture is a fundamental tool to create learning landscapes. These landscapes could be welcoming to all our students to promote their development in coexistence and healthy lifestyle habits during recess.
Young boys and girls and adolescents, in general, need to play for good cognitive, social, physical, and psychologically healthy development. Through play and risk, children learn to know themselves and their role in the world. They also learn to take care of themselves and of others, to know their own limits, to take risks in moderation and control anger. Through play, children practice how to act when they are sad, happy, disappointed; in synthesis, they develop a tolerance for frustration (3).
(3) P. Gray, Free to Learn: Why Unleashing the Instinct to Play Will Make Our Children Happier, More Self-Reliant, and Better Students for Life (2013).
Landscape design becomes a fundamental tool to motivate play in schools because the playground space operates as a “third teacher” that can promote certain types of actions. A small slope invites children to run, a wall invites them to hide, the sand to dig, and a seat under a tree to stop and chat. The learning landscape is about creating small interventions in the recess area that children can complete with their movement and their acts.
We can conclude, then, that it is fundamental to generate a common language between education and landscape architecture, to turn school territories into learning landscapes. This type of landscape can create a relationship between the space and those who inhabit it, thus positioning the schoolyard as a useful tool to improve the quality of education in our country as evidenced by, for example, our experiences at the Sacred Family School of Quinta Normal (fig.1-8), where the classic cement area for soccer was modified. Through the construction of a border area capable of hosting free play in combination with a stand of Beech trees that provides shade and color according to the seasons of the year and evokes the shady old promenades of the Quinta Normal, a landscape was produced that can facilitate conversation and observation. Here the residual spaces become a tree-lined space that welcomes students; the cement becomes a place that welcomes everyone and promotes a healthy coexistence in an environment of inclusion and respect among students: a learning landscape.
Ángela Ibañez has a degree in Arts and Humanities and a Master’s Degree in Landscape Architecture from the Pontifical Catholic University of Chile. She is currently Executive Director of Fundación Patio Vivo www.patiovivo.cl, which aims to create learning landscapes linking the playground with the territory where it is located and the educational project of the establishment.