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It takes a global pandemic to remind Australians of our unique relationship to the outdoors.

As a nation, we maintain a connection to the exterior that sets the standard globally; with outdoor recreation and intimate family gatherings on the lawn or the beach permeating our favourite childhood memories. These drive and define our identity.

Schools – where children spend much of their time – are direct contributors to this framework. Teaching environments across the globe are ever-evolving and competitive. Measures of success are a hot topic and often a precursor for change.

Up until recently, academic results were the marker by which schools were assessed. It may be time for a re-think. As we reposition ourselves to counter a post-pandemic world, there may too be an adaption to the classroom.

But open learning - or the practice of learning outside - is not a new concept. The outdoors - as an extension to the classroom - has been explored in the West prior to the origination of ‘the integrated day’ (or school day) from the late 1920s onwards. Renewed focus occurred again here in the 1960s.

Outdoor learning

Outdoor learning circa 1930

“Open education, it was argued, provided more educational opportunities for children, provided freedom and autonomy for self-directed study, required less guidance by the teacher, and helped foster self-responsibility.”- Barth, 1972.

As we enter the next decade, we were already seeing a continual shift towards collaboration, with flexible environments (both physical and digital) continuing to emerge that pertain towards the workplace and the home.

In many ways, COVID-19 really challenges these architectures. The point of difference for the next generation of students will be how schools adapt and diversify.

New measures may revolve around connections to self, connections to others, and to the outdoors - to more informal, playful learning practice.

With the new DA just approved for the Playscape design at Northern Beaches Christian School, the school has leapt forward with WMK Architecture to embrace student wellbeing with a future-focused, whole-school masterplan. This is a very confident step towards a new future.

playground article

NBCS Master plan by WMK

The Playscapes consist of 5 new play areas within the school grounds and are designed to include waterscapes, sensory spaces, and bespoke equipment while referencing landscape specific to the Sydney Basin. 

Central to these works are congregation spaces for classroom activities; play areas encourage incidental connections between staff and students. These new-world spaces hope to instill more resilience in children, and greater consideration for others and the environment.


New NBCS outdoor learning environments - Primary School playground

A special project demands a specialist team; with principal design consultants WMK Architecture drawing inspiration from its multi-sector experience while working with Babbington Landscapes and Play by Design.

MicrosoftTeams image

For new learning environments, perceptions of success need to shift the focus away from the individual success story. At Northern Beaches Christian School, playscapes reinforce award-winning teaching and learning facilities already at the school to promote a culture of collaboration and sense of place; towards a new vernacular in Australian school architecture.

WMK NBCS May2016 788


This article was written by Michaela Coe, Education Architect, WMK Architecture. 


Posted by Michaela Coe

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