Centre for the Study of Childhood and Youth Department of Landscape
My Green School September 2012 Report written by Lisa Procter (with Allison James and Penny Curtis) Research team: Lisa Procter, Allison James, Penny Curtis, Jeff Sorrill Funded by Lindum Turf and Faculty of Social Sciences, The University of Sheffield
My Green School
Contents Pg. no.
2. Research Design 2.1. Methodology, methods and participants 2.2. Summary of fieldwork activity
3. Research Context 3.1. Introducing the school
4. Research Findings
4.1. Children’s identification of ‘Green Spaces’
4.2. A ‘Special’ Space: children’s perceptions of the green roof
4.3. Making Nature: children’s interactions with green spaces
4.4. Wild and tame green spaces
4.5. Teacher’s perceptions of how green spaces affect children’s behaviour
4.6. Children’s perceptions of learning in green spaces
4.7. Connections between home and school
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1. Introduction In 2011 the Government announced its ambition is ‘to see every child in England given the chance to experience and learn about the natural environment’ (The Natural Environment White Paper). Fuelling this announcement were a variety of reports that suggest that children, and particularly those in urban environments, are losing their connections with local natural environments (Natural England 2009) and that enabling children to learn in the natural environment can be associated with a range of benefits, including enhanced environmental awareness and improved child health and social cohesion (King’s College 2011). One way in which ‘nature’ can be introduced into the urban environment is through the development of green roofs on school buildings and the provision of other green spaces on school sites. ‘Green’ buildings are often evaluated in regard to their environmental impact and little research has explored how people, and particularly children, engage with these environments. This project aims to contribute to this area by exploring children’s experiences of their ‘green’ school, designed with a focus upon sustainability. Children and teachers participated in research activities to share how they used and came to understand their school’s ‘green’ spaces, their experiences and perceptions of these spaces, what they learnt as they interacted with them and whether this learning related to their lives beyond school. The names used in this report are pseudonyms. It is hoped that the findings from this research project will be used to influence the design of green spaces for children and their use as educational resources. In addition, this study has identified opportunities for further research in this area.
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2. Research Design 2.1. Methodology, methods and participants This research project involved a review of academic and practice-related literature about sustainable school design and environmental education. This review was followed by a research case study at Sharrow School in Sheffield. The study worked directly with ten Year 5 children, but included observations of younger children's free use of all the green spaces during the school day, which included: when they arrive at school, breaks and playtimes, and class visits to the green spaces. Year 5 children (aged 9 and 10) were selected because they had experienced the green spaces of the school for a longer period of time than many of the other children. The children directly participating in the research were involved in a range of research activities. In small groups the children were asked to draw a large map of their school in order to explore how they depict the green spaces. The drawings were used as prompts for conversations between the children and the researcher to engage with what they value about the green spaces at their school. The children also took the researcher on a walking tour around the school to describe what happens in the green spaces and what they enjoy doing in these spaces. The features that children described were documented through photographs taken by the researcher. Paired interviews or focus groups were used to engage with what children learn through their interactions with green spaces, with a particular focus on â€˜greenâ€™ issues, and to what extent their learning extends to their lives outside school. Interviews were also carried out with Year 5 teachers about the environmental curriculum.
2.2. Summary of fieldwork activity -
1 interview with 2 members of school staff 2 drawing workshops with 8 children 5 walking tours with 10 children 3 focus groups with 10 children
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3. Context 3.1. Introducing the school This research was carried out in Sharrow School, located in an inner-city suburb of Sheffield. The community here is culturally and ethnically diverse. This is reflected in the 2010 Ofsted report about the school: ‘Nine out of ten pupils are from minority ethnic groups, of whom pupils with Pakistani background are by far the largest group. The overwhelming majority of pupils speak a language other than English at home. Currently, 35 different languages are spoken’ (Ofsted 2010, pg. 3). The school was built in 2006 and incorporates a children’s centre and can therefore offer learning opportunities for children aged from 3 months to 11 years. The school’s website states that the building has been designed to support the delivery of a ‘creative and exciting curriculum’. One of the distinctive features of the school is its green roof. Whilst the website states that the ‘aim of the green roof was to provide added value by assisting the control of storm water, humidity, noise, heat and pollution’ and highlights the visual impact and high biodiversity value of the roof, little is made of how this and other green spaces are used as learning resources at the school. However, it is clear that these spaces are valued by teachers, particularly as they perceive the majority of children’s experiences outside of school are situated within an urban environment. There will be very few children in here whose parents will say, ‘let’s go and walk in the country’, ‘let’s go to the park’, ‘let’s go and catch some fish in the pond, ‘ let’s go to the market’, ‘let’s go and have a look and see what the carousel’s doing at the funfair’. (Teacher, Year 5). ‘[The green spaces are valuable] for getting children to learn about the importance of, you know, being green and look after the environment ... and for them to sort of see that they’re part of nature... It’s not something that’s ... [part] ... of their normal daily life... It’s not part of where they live’ (Year 5 teacher).
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The perception that inner city children have limited access to the countryside and that this necessarily restricted their experience and understanding of 'nature' and environmental issues was a key determinant in providing green spaces within the school site for children to access during school time. However, the green spaces were also seen as a valuable learning resource. Groundwork Sheffield, an environmental regeneration charity, and The Green Roof Centre, a research centre promoting the development of green roofs at the University of Sheffield, worked with the school to develop the green spaces and to consider how teachers could incorporate these spaces into their teaching activities to raise children’s environmental awareness. They produced a ‘Grow Up Green’ teaching resource developed ‘to engage children with the environment and introduce ways of tackling climate change both at home and within the school grounds’. This resource reflects how the green spaces were intended to be used by teachers to support children’s learning in three areas:
- Minibeasts and classification - Climate and energy - Sustainable building design and green roofs In addition to the provision of green spaces within the school grounds, the school is also contiguous with an urban park. This has large swathes of grassed areas as well as a wide range of facilities for young people including an adventure playground, skate park, graffiti walls and basketball courts.
Looking from a first floor classroom terrace onto the school playground and urban park.
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4. Research Findings This research was framed by three questions: • What perceptions do children have of the green spaces? • How do children interact with these spaces? • What do children like and dislike about the green spaces? The findings presented in the sections that follow illustrate the ways that children’s understandings of green spaces are influenced by their engagements with them and, in addition, how their likes and dislikes of green spaces are influenced by these meaning-making processes. The findings are divided into the following sub-sections: 1.
Children’s identification of ‘Green Spaces’
A ‘Special’ Space: children’s perceptions of the green roof
Making Nature: children’s interactions with green spaces
Wild and tame green spaces
Teacher’s perceptions of how green spaces affect children’s behaviour
Children’s perceptions of learning in green spaces
Connections between home and school
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4.1. Childrenâ€™s identification of â€˜Green Spacesâ€™ On the tours of the school children were asked to identify both spaces and features to show the researcher including: 1) the places where plants grow; 2) things that are good for the planet. On these tours the children focused primarily on showing me the places where the plants grow and the majority of the spaces we visited were outside. These tours revealed what kinds of spaces the children felt were important at their school in relation to these questions. Green roof: The children have a science or art lesson on the roof as a class approximately once a year. They do not have free access to this space. When the children visit the roof they are allowed to access a paved area at one end of the green roof. This is separated from the roof by a steel frame and glass panelled barrier. Therefore children can only view a section of the green roof and cannot walk directly onto it.
Allotments: Small groups of children from each class tend to allotments in the school grounds each week with guidance from the school caretaker. These allotments include 4 raised beds for growing vegetables and 2 compost bins. The produce grown in the allotments is sometimes sold to parents or used by children in cooking lessons. A pair of Year 5 children (at the time of the study these were 2 girls) are also responsible for collecting the organic waste from each classroom and adding this to the compost bin once a day.
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Orchard: The children do not access this space but showed an interest in naming the different types of planted fruit trees. The children felt that the berries helped to attract birds to the school. This consideration of wildlife were common to childrenâ€™s reflections on why green spaces are important.
Classroom terraces: Each classroom has its own terrace. The most popular terraces on the tours were the ones that were south facing and seemed to be the most used terraces in the school and these housed the most planting beds. Playground planting and raised beds: In the playground the children would point out the plants growing in the perimeter of the playground and the raised beds in the centre of the playground. The children interacted with the planting beds and raised beds in very different ways and this will be explored in further detail in the following sections.
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Communal garden: The communal garden is an extension to the playground. This is a grassed space bounded by hedgerows. It has gates that open up onto the public park in front of the school. This garden is separated from the playground by railings and a tall gate. This gate is opened on sunny days during playtimes.
The caretaker’s house: The school caretaker’s house faces the allotment gardens of the school. She has a well-kept garden and the children seemed to see her as an ‘expert gardener’.
‘Green’ features: The features mentioned by children included: air vents, skylights, using rainwater to flush the toilets, water butts to collect rainwater for the plants, birdhouses, a pond on the green roof. In addition to this the school’s electricity is generated using geothermal energy from pipes laid beneath the park towards the south of school, as captured in the photograph on the left.
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4.2. A ‘Special’ Space: children’s perceptions of the green roof The green roof is seen by the children as a ‘special’ place. For example, during a tour to the roof one of the girls said to the researcher, ‘you’re allowed to take a rock [from the roof] if you want, just for remembering’. For many of the children, the green roof is what they feel makes their school interesting. One girl explained that ‘most schools don’t have a green roof. They might have a few plants but not a full green roof’. In this way, the green roof sets their school apart from others. It seems that this view of the roof is strengthened through the kind of media coverage and publicity it has received, such as a feature on the popular children’s news programme called Newsround. I: Do you think that it was good that it was on Newsround? All: Yeah ... I: It’s kind of made you school a bit famous? F: It took it to another level I: Yeah F: From like boring to special In this extract one of the girls suggests that the fame her school has obtained has transformed it from being ‘boring to special’. Other children also felt that ‘loads’ of visitors come to their school to see the green roof. While the roof is now described by children as a local attraction, when it was being built some of the children said they knew nothing about it, ‘until we saw the pictures of our green roof and saw it was on the news’. For them, the green roof was a secret - when ‘they were building it, it was a secret’. This shift from being a secret to being an attraction seems to add to the green roof's appeal to the children. This ‘specialness’ is also captured in the children’s views of the roof within the context of the city. F: Actually [the green roof] is one of the only nature reserves in Sheffield ... F: Yeah, it was the first one F: And then the University’s the second These comments reflect the significance the children attribute to their school’s green roof as a city landmark. Some also see it as national landmark, ‘this is one of the famous schools in England’. Although their statements are not factually accurate, the children’s comments reflect the level of importance they consider their green roof to have. However, it also seems that the specialness
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attributed to the roof also influences and restricts children’s engagement with the space. The green roof has become a protected space which the children can see but not touch. Access to the roof itself is through a locked gate, for which a key must be collected by an adult from reception. On the roof the children stand on a paved area surrounded by a glass balustrade. One girl’s explanation as to why the glass was there was so that ‘people don’t touch [the green roof] or pull the flowers off’. Another explained that the glass was there ‘to keep the flowers safe’.
Children’s access to the green roof is restricted by this glass balustrade
It seems that the identity that has been constructed for the roof also influences the ways that children conceptualise the natural world. For the children nature is something which needs to be protected and nurtured. In this way nature is seen as something which is ‘made’ by humans. The children are also aware, however, that humans’ actions can damage ‘nature’. This is reinforced through the restricted access to and use of green spaces within the school. The section above showed that a concern to protect the green roof manifests itself in a physical barrier that prevents children from stepping onto the green space. In the playground children are not allowed to walk over the planting beds as this would, as one girl told me, ‘damage the plants’. Another girl showed me how the bark of a young tree was becoming damaged because children had been holding the trunk in their hands and running around it in circles. In these ways the children seem to see nature as in need of ‘looking after’.
My Green School
The children hold on to the trunks of these young trees and swing around them
I: Do you think [the green roof] will grow on its own? F: No. I: What do you think it needs? F: Water, soil, sun, sunlight F: Looking after. M: Space. I: ... You say looking after, what do you mean? F: Like water every day. F: Make sure it has enough sun. F: Instead of like just in a shady place. ... M: You have to change the soil and if you keep on, if you have the same soil it might die. In this extract the children suggest that people have a key role to play in ensuring that the plants on the green roof get everything they need to grow. While the list of key ingredients given by the children are natural, they go on to describe the role that people play in facilitating the right access to these ingredients, such as planting in a sunny spot. The children qualified these views by stating that they had seen people going onto the roof. F: Sometimes when we play we see [the caretaker] go up and she takes the soil bag and when she comes down itâ€™s like half [empty]
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This section has shown that the ‘specialness’ of the green roof influences how children are allowed to engage with this space. The children’s access to the roof is restricted by glass barriers. The ways they engage with the space seems also to influence their understanding of their relationship to the natural world. Nature is viewed as in need of being looked after by them and others. This research suggests that there is a relationship between children’s engagements with green spaces as facilitated by adults and their conceptualisations of nature. However, it would be interesting to explore whether children’s views about nature differ depending upon their socio-cultural background given that wider views about nature can vary in different cultural contexts.
4.3. Making Nature: children’s interactions with green spaces The children who participated in this research seem to see green spaces as needing some kind of human involvement in order to flourish. They saw themselves, as well as other members of the school community, as playing an important role in the sustenance of their school’s green spaces. For example, the children felt that they played an important role in helping to grow vegetables in the allotments. I: What do you like about [growing vegetables]? F: It’s really just helping nature and I’m a big fan of nature and it can be fun... F: Because it’s like it’s your own plants you’ve grown, it makes you feel proud if you’ve grown it F: It makes you feel special inside This excerpt from a focus group shows how the children position themselves as ‘helping nature’. They seem to attribute a great deal of weight to this role, which is reinforced through their feelings of pride. In addition, the school awards prizes to children who look after plants at home as well as at school. The plants they grow from seed are also sold to parents. These exchanges seem to add value to the task of helping a plant to grow. In addition, when the children were discussing what they would like to do on the roof that they can’t do now, one girl said that she would like to ‘add more nature’ and made a particular reference to animals. This suggests a view that nature is something that they can both create and then control. This view is not only supported by the fact they have witnessed others sowing seeds or tending to plants, the children have also seen plants removed from the school. M: A long time ago there used to be a tree with like small, like - I’ve forgotten now. I: OK.
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M: It was somewhere in the playground. I: And this was the front playground? M: Yeah, with the monkey-bars. I: And it’s not there anymore? M: No. I: What happened? M: I think someone got it out. M: Pulled it out. I: Do you know why? M: I forgot. M: I think it had got like needles. It had got like needles. I: Do you remember it? ... M: It [had] like a yellow eyeball M: It’s like a crocodile’s. M: Wooden, yellowish colour. Like Pinocchio. While it seems that the children make links between green spaces and human intervention, not all the children agreed that the green roof needed to be maintained by people. Other children drew upon a recent lesson they had about seed dispersal to explain why the green roof did not require input from people for new plants to grow. I: Have you ever planted anything [on the roof]? F1: No. F2: No. F3: The birds do it all for us because they carry the seeds and then they’re so clumsy that they drop the seeds onto the garden and that’s what makes the flowers grow. I: how do they drop the seeds? F3: They carry it in their beaks. I: So does anybody else plant anything or is it just the birds? F3: No. ... I: So do you think the green roof just grows on its own? F3: On it’s own Here the children suggest that the green roof does not require human intervention to grow. However, and in contrast, they make frequent reference to the quality of care required to grow
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vegetables in the allotment. When asked why the green roof did not need human intervention but the allotments did a girl explained that the roof was closer to the birds. I: Why do you think that the green roof can just grow on its own but the allotments need so much help? Why do you think that is? F: Because the birds tend to be in the sky most of the time. The possibility of the birds dropping the seed is going to be on the roof, not on the ground. This section suggests that children’s understanding of their relationship to nature is shaped through the ways they interact with green spaces. Children are rewarded for tending to plants. Their feelings of pride that they associate within being rewarded reinforces their sense that it is important to take responsibility for looking after the ‘natural’ world. However, the children seem to have constructed different ‘types’ of nature, which require different ‘types’ of care. For example, the allotments required a much greater level of intervention by them than the green roof. This may be influenced by the fact the children visit and tend to this space much more regularly. However, it seems that the children view the green roof as a wild type of nature that is self-sustaining, whereas the allotments represent a tamed type of nature that would not thrive without human intervention.
4.4. Wild and tamed green spaces The roof seems to be seen by many of the children as a ‘wild’ type of nature, which is more closely associated with the countryside. In contrast, the allotments are a ‘tamed’ type of nature. The children’s different conceptualisations of these two spaces may also influence their view that the green roof needs less input or care than the allotments. It also seems that children draw upon their experiences and perception of the countryside in order to describe the green roof. In addition, the children’s different experiences of the green spaces in their school grounds informs how they construct two different understandings of nature. The children identify the green roof as an unstructured wilderness with an almost spiritual quality akin with the type of nature they experience in the countryside. I: What’s it feel like when you’re up on the roof? F: you feel like the breeze or wind just goes through you. F: It’s like you’re part of nature ...
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F: You know sometimes when I visit things like the countryside when you have those loads of fields with flowers everywhere, it reminds me of the roof because it’s got lots of flowers and plants. At the same time they are also well-practised in taming and controlling nature through their active involvement in maintaining the school allotments, as one girl said ‘we can get our hands dirty’. For example, a group of boys spoke about how they encourage certain types of plants to grow that will increase the number of ladybirds ‘so they eat the greenfly’. They also create ‘places for snails’ to keep them away from their plants. In these ways the children are learning strategies to manipulate nature in order to support a good yield of fruit and vegetables throughout the year. The different identities given to these two spaces, the green roof and the allotments, seems to influence the ways they are valued by the children. For example, many of the children described their experiences on the green roof using emotive language connected to their felt experiences in this space. For example, one girl said that the roof makes her ‘feel free’ and that she ‘just puts out her arms and closes her eyes’. She adds to this, it is a ‘relaxing place ... [you] could do yoga up there’. Another girl commented upon the importance of touch, ‘you can actually feel how it is ... you can actually touch the texture’. It seems too that the height of the green roof is important to the children. F: All the classes are like we’re on top of then ... F: yeah, it’s like flying R: Like you’re flying in the air? F: Yeah, I'm flying in the air! In contrast, the children’s conversations about the allotments were commonly framed around gardening techniques. For example, on one of the school tours with two girls, they spoke about the techniques they used to keep slugs away from the vegetables growing in the allotment. One girl said that her teachers put hair extensions on the ground to keep slugs away. The other said that copper wire also worked. It seems that the children enjoy the allotments and green roof in different ways. The green roof they enjoy for the way the space affects their senses, whereas the allotments give them a sense of both responsibility and achievement. Important to this is being able to see the effects of their efforts on the plants they are growing. The children , for example, get excited by the stages of growth that the vegetables they have planted go through.
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F: It’s starting to like turn purple, like purply red ... when I came back from school it was all gone like tall ... and today in the morning I started seeing some, on that side there was purple and the other side it started to turn reddy purple. The children understand growing plants as something which requires both skill and responsibility. Responsibility is an attribute that is rewarded by the school. For example, children receive prizes for taking plants home from school and continuing to look after them effectively. Parents are also encouraged to recognise children’s commitment to growing plants. For example, the children sell plants they have grown from seed to parents. I think [growing vegetables] is good for them in the sort of social way that they bring [their produce] here or they sell it downstairs to parents (Teacher, Year 5). Reliability was noted as an important attribute for the children to have in order to be selected for jobs related to looking after the allotments. This is reflected in a girl’s comments about why she was selected for the job of ‘doing the compost’. I: So how do you do it? F: First we need to get a fob [from reception] and shredded paper. [We need the fob] because in nursery and reception we need it to open the door, it’s not like automatic, you have to open it with [the fob]. F: And you have to go to nursery, reception, Year 1 and year 2 to get their fruit peel or their unfinished apples F: Basically whatever they leave behind. F: Yeah, in this compost bucket and then we ... need to go outside and F: Chuck it in. F: Yeah F: There’s a little box. F: Spread it out, spread the compost out and then put the shreddings on top. ... I: Why do you think you were chosen [to do that job]? F: [The teacher] said that she was F: Because I’m reliable. The attributes the children associate with looking after the green spaces, such as reliability mentioned above, are reinforced through the allocation of these kinds of jobs. This was also reflected in a previous section which suggested that importance of being responsible is reinforced
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by adults through rewards given to children who successfully look after a plant at home. The perception that children have not yet developed these attributes, but are at school to learn them, seems to enforce particular rules about which greens spaces are accessible to children and adults. For example, on the green roof, the children are very clear that only adults are allowed to go past the glass barrier, ‘we’re just not allowed to go on it’. This suggests that the construction of the green roof as special and in need of protection, and children, as not responsible enough, work hand-inhand to inform how children engage with the green spaces. However, a teacher interviewed as part of the research suggested that the restricted access to the green roof was a hindrance : 'there’s not an awful lot of room is there where [the children] can go and delve’. The playground is another green space that has a specific identity. The greenery in this space can be considered tamed, as the planting is restricted to borders and raised beds. Whereas children interact with the tamed space of the allotments in a very careful way (for example, on tours of the school they have walked around the raised beds naming the plants as they do so), their interactions with the plants and planting beds in the playground are very different. These plants become affordances for play. For example, bushes are used in games of hide and seek. The edges of the planting beds are also used for play as demonstrated in the following extract from fieldnotes. Sarah, plays in one of the ‘planting beds’ (again filled with soil and woodchip) in the playground. Two wooden beams are raised around 40 cms from the ground and enclose the bed. The bed is triangular in shape and she is trying to walk across the beams, one foot on each, without falling off. However, the beams get further and further apart. I tell her she nearly did the splits! She continues to play the game and some other children come over to talk to me. A playground supervisor comes over and asks Sarah not to go in the beds. Perhaps these restrictions also inspire children’s games with the planting beds (Fieldnotes, May 2012). In the playground there seems to be a distinction between how the boys and girls interacts with the space. For example, girls feel that boys are the ones who break the rules set by adults to limit how children can interact with the plants in the playground.
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Lauren explains that you can get inside the hedges in the front garden and there is a tunnel that runs from one end to the other. She says she likes being there because she is ‘close to nature’... I ask if we can go inside and have a look. She seems tentative. She says that she doesn’t think they are allowed. Rita is also with us... Rita tries to encourage me to go inside. The tunnel looks too small for me to fit! Lauren tells me again that she thinks they are not allowed. Rita and Lauren ask the lunchtime supervisor... who says that they cannot go inside. I ask the supervisor why the children are not allowed inside the hedge. She says that the children do things that they are not allowed to. ‘Like what?’, I ask. They may hide in there, she tells me, or bully other children. Later during the lunchbreak I see a boy dart into the hedge. He forcefully shakes the hedge when he is inside. He darts back out again... Later I tell Lauren that I saw a boy running in the hedge. She tells me that boys always break the rules. I ask her if she thinks they just forget about the rules because they are playing. She is very clear that they don’t, she says that they do it on purpose. She says that they also playfight a lot and they are not meant to do that (Fieldnotes, May 2012). In the playground the girls discipline the boys using the ‘cold pole’. This is a galvanised steel column that holds up the staircase leading to the green roof. The boys have to roll up their sleeves and hug the pole. This is a punishment for boys who have not shown ‘respect to the girls’ or when they have been ‘too rough’. In this space the girls consider the boys as rule-breakers who need to be managed. However, girls do also play in the planting beds, especially during games of hide and seek.
The Cold Pole
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Hiding is an important part of children’s playground games but the children also spoke about the lack of opportunities to hide in their playground. It is this that leads to them using the bushes, which are the only hiding spaces available to them. However, children’s curiosity for hiding games sits in tension with the adults' experience of some children misbehaving when they were away from the gaze of adults. One boy also spoke about monitoring the teacher’s gaze during playtime. M: You can fight when the teachers are not looking. I: So you have to kind of keep an eye on where the teachers are and make sure that you’re doing things when they won’t see you? F: One time I was fighting and like I had a guard and then when the teacher was looking we just stopped. It seems that the tamed green spaces of the playground invite a very different type of use than the allotments. The playground facilitates ‘wild’ interactions between the children and the space and with others which break the rules. In this environment some of the children feel that the rules are useless. For example, one girl said there was no point in having the rule about not treading on the grass because children break it so often that plants are no longer growing in many of them. F: [At playtime] you can break the rules. I: You can break the rules. What kinds of rules do you break? F: Go on the plants I: You go on plants, OK, yeah? M: Smack people. F: No! F: You can’t do that! M: Yeah, I do. F: Instead of being just in a square [like during a lesson] you can just go around. ... I: Do you think the rules inside are different to the rules outside? All: Yeah F: 100% I: What kinds of rules? F: Outside you’re freer and inside you’re stuck
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4.5. Teacher’s perceptions of how green spaces affect children’s behaviour While the children are aware of their own changes in behaviour when they are in their classrooms during lessons and when they are in the playground during playtime, this is also noticed by the teachers. The freedom that children are perceived to have outside is also a point of concern for teachers and makes them wary about facilitating lessons outside. Going outside ... it’s different than keeping the children inside the classroom and in their places and with the people ... quite a lot of the time you have seating plans for where the children sit and it’s very sort of deliberate to help, you know, the children be able to learn in the best way possible really and separate any sort of behaviour issues, whereas that becomes a problem when you go outside and it’s not as easy to mange that. And so that, you know, will sort of be on your mind as well when you’re thinking about going outside (Teacher, Year 5). In addition to the challenges of managing behaviour in outdoor spaces, teachers also find it difficult to teach when children are excited. Nature is seen by teachers as a source of excitement for children. This excitement is something that teachers feel needs to dissipate in order for the children to ‘settle’ back into learning once they return to the classroom. And they are very excitable by nature a lot of these children ... some of them are just like a bullet out of a gun as soon as they get out that [classroom] door... You take them out on the odd occasion and they go out through the glass door and they actually run in the yard screaming as if they’ve been kept down in a cellar for three weeks... It’s like ‘urgh’, you know. And you think, well we just can’t really afford to do that mid-afternoon or mid-morning because it takes them so long to settle back down (Teacher, Year 5). For another teacher, it is the lack of enclosure or containment by physical space that is seen to be challenging. And some children just seem, you know, when they get outside it’s like ... all of a sudden they’ve not got these walls to sort of keep them in (Teacher, Year 5). These concerns about how children respond to going outside was reflected in one teacher’s careful focus upon the setting of expectations before the children leave the classroom for an outdoor lesson on one of the school’s terraces. The extract from fieldnotes below demonstrates how teacher’s
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concerns regarding children’s behaviour outside the classroom are realised in their practice. There appears to be an anticipation that the children will misbehave as soon as they step outside. Neil [the Year 5 teacher] asks the children to line up at the door of the classroom, he leads them out into the corridor and towards the glass fire door leading onto the terrace. He asks the children to wait at the door. He waits until they are quiet and then opens the door and they walk outside. This careful monitoring of behaviour continues when the children get outside. The children walk towards the glass balcony and are asked to around them, right into the distance and all around the balcony. He tells them not to talk but to look and think of prepositions. Some of the children are flapping their whiteboards in front of their faces to cool themselves down in the heat. ‘No flapping’ he tells them. The children sit down... One of the girls stands up and begins to walk across the terrace. ‘You don’t need to move’ Neil tells her... [Later] ... the children begin to ask what things are called. Jemma points out to the field and asks Neil ‘what’s that’. He says that she will have to give him more to go on so that he knows where she is pointing. ‘Over there’ she says. He encourages her to use prepositions to describe the object she is pointing at... (Fieldnotes, May 2012) Neil’s vigilance over bad behaviour stops once he enters into a dialogue with the children as they begin to ask him the names of objects in their environment. While teachers experience the challenges in managing children’s behaviours as a barrier to learning outside the classroom, they also highlight the many opportunities that green spaces provide , for example a new atmosphere. However, it seems that children’s excitement about learning outside the classroom is also related to the different identities for children that are associated with indoor and outdoor spaces, constructed through teachers’ disciplinary practices: [During an outdoor lesson] one of the children, Sheila, is talking with two of her friends, who are sat either side of her. Her teacher tells her to go inside because she is misbehaving. She does so (Fieldnotes, May 2012). Indoor spaces seem to be used to as a tool for disciplining those who ‘misbehave’. For example, ‘naughty‘ children tend to stay indoors during playtimes as a punishment for their behaviour. However, during ‘goldentime’ (a period at the end of the week when a class of children are given free-time, the amount of free-time being calculated by the number of awards the class has received from their teacher in the week) the children will have their lessons on the terrace. This use of
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indoor and outdoor spaces in relation to discipline positions these two types of spaces in opposition to one another. This is captured in children’s reflections that learning inside is ‘boring’ but learning outside is ‘fun’. The children also explained that their teachers ‘look like they’re really relaxed’ when they are outside. These perceptions perhaps reinforce the sense of ‘specialness’ that children associate with being outside the classroom.
4.6. Children’s perceptions of learning in green spaces For the children, lessons in the green spaces are fun. While some of the children claim that they do not really ‘work’ when they are learning outside, they can often remember in much detail the activities they did. Others state that lessons outside do involve work but they are also fun. I: When you go out to the allotments is that like a lesson or is it separate to your lessons? F: It’s half-half I: Half-half, what do you mean? F: Because we enjoy it... F: Yeah, but we learn and enjoy The contrast that the children perceive between indoor and outdoor lessons seems to be an important aspect of how children experience learning outside the classroom. It seems that in learning outside children get to do things that they are not normally allowed to do, such as getting their ‘hands dirty’ or ‘moving all about’. I: So it’s different to the kinds of lessons you might have, you know, like if you’re doing Maths? F: Yeah... I: How is it different? F: You actually get to get your hands dirty F: Because really when you’re doing Maths, it’s like all calm and stuff but when you’re like up on the roof, you’re like moving all about, looking for plants, searching for what’s your favourite, which one do you like. However, these descriptions of freedom seem to conflict with observations of outdoor lessons, such as the lesson about propositions on one of the terraces described in the section above. In addition, during the school tours the children were asked to describe or demonstrate how they used the green spaces during lessons. The boys ‘in the space’ descriptions do not convey the active exploration of the space that they imagine when they are not in the space.
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M: we sit down on the floor or we might just stand M: We Just talk M: We just sit, just talk M: Just talk about what kinds of plants there are M: How we can help this environment ... M: What we have to do to make these plants grow bigger and healthier It also seems that the children’s understanding of the rationale behind these lessons is to understand how to help the environment. This environmental focus is reflected in children’s descriptions of the kinds of activities they do outside, and also in their reflections on the kinds of subjects that could be taught outside. I: Do you think that everything you do in the classroom you should be able to do outside? F: Only in Science ... and literacy, like if you get facts and then write it down F: How to help the environment While the children have only experienced lessons outside the classroom with the subjects of science, art and literacy, this also has implications for how they understand green spaces as a learning resource. For example, for the children learning outside is about understanding a concept by seeing it. F: ... if we see it with our own eyes we can learn more ... I: Have you got an example? F: For example like when we go over there the teacher shows us like the fruit that’s been decomposed and then turned into soil. It actually, she actually shows us the soil... Not like in a picture or something. ... F: If we’re doing about, like, the environment it helps us because we’ve experienced it and we know how to like do the stuff and we know how to do the cycle of a plant.
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This recognition of seeing as learning was also reflected by the children’s comments on their tours. Many children pointed out different plants and would comment on them, such as ‘we can recognise the leaves here’, ‘the berries attract quite a few birds’, ‘we’ve got a poppy there’, or ‘they need watering’. This interest in naming the environment, both plants and insects, is also reflected in one of the children’s drawings. It seems that the education they are getting supports their curiosity in the world around them. For example, one of the children on the tour pointed out some ‘long grass’. She said that it had grown but that children had not planted it. The grass was underneath one of the outdoor water taps. F: That’s where the water comes from and you know sometimes you will spill the water when they’re getting it into buckets, so it ends up going over these plants and they grow. For the children learning in green spaces reflects an engagement with something real. While the children did reflect on their experience of being outside and especially their sense of freedom, the comments they make with regard to learning seem to be about a reflective engagement with the real world. F: Or, sometimes you know they tell you things about the weather and stuff and like you can’t see it through the picture but when you go there you can actually feel it and sometimes you’re like no, this is not right, and [then we] get corrected when we go outside because we [then] actually know what is actually for real. This was also reflected in children’s comments about future careers: F: And because when we go, we might want to be gardeners so we’ll know how to do it instead of like asking people how to plant. You have your own advice.
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This section suggests that children attribute feelings of enjoyment to learning outside the classroom. However, their emotive accounts of lessons in the school’s green spaces also seem to be informed by the ways that the indoors and outdoors are constructed in opposition to one another within the school. For example, being indoors is associated with being naughty whilst being outdoors is associated with being rewarded. In this way, being outside is seen by the children as an opportunity to do things that they are not normally allowed to do. However, their perception of ‘freedom’ seems to contrast with the ways they use green spaces during outdoor lessons. As shown in the previous section teachers are particularly vigilant over ‘naughty’ behaviour during outdoor lessons and take extra precautions to manage how the children behave. However, in spite of this children associate a ‘realness’ with their lessons outside. They seem to associate the act of both seeing and doing with remembering. Their engagements with green spaces also do seem to encourage the children’s curiosity to see and to understand. This was particularly evident on the children’s tours. These more informal engagements with the green spaces seem important to the children. For example, two girls spoke about how a job they were given, to collect recyclable waste from each classroom, provided them with the opportunity to eagerly monitor the growth of tadpoles living in a vessel of water outside the Year 2 classroom.
4.7. Connections between home and school The outdoor terraces above ground level and the green roof provide children with access to views of the surrounding area. This seems very important to the children who said that, when they were up on the roof, they liked to see ‘not only the roof but a view’. This allowed them to situate themselves within a wider social context, as children would point out local landmarks from this high vantage points. I: [When you’re on the roof] what’s one of the things that you look at first? F: I look at the plants. I: So you look at the plants, yeah ... Does anybody look at the stuff off the roof? F: I look at the skyscraper ... F: I just look at the scenery ... F: I get to see all the buildings. Sometimes you can see Meersbrook Park This visual connectedness to the spaces and places beyond the school seemed to be important to the children, even at ground level. While the school is enclosed by metal meshed barriers, the children can see people walking in the park beyond the school. Sometimes they would recognise
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people and wave to them from the playground. Teachers also spoke about the significance of the ‘openness’ of the school. In comparison to the old school where we used to be, it was very much sort of brick walls all the way around it and you know, sort of the only thing that you could see was sort of through the gates and it was just the road ... it was very sort of enclosed and you didn’t feel like you were necessarily part of anywhere other than the school ... And I think you know, sort of being here and it being much more open, you do feel like you’re part of something else (Teacher, Year 5). Children’s interest in green spaces also seems to facilitate connections between school, home and beyond. They often made references to gardening activities with their parents or carers. Many felt that they could learn much from their parents about tending to plants. For example, one girl explained that her mum had said that ‘if you cut [a stem] ... a little bit, like, a half of the stem it might grow another one out, that’s what my mum said’. Another boy explained that his ‘cousin actually had a toilet and he put plants inside and the plants seeds came off and they were so big. It was so cool, like a tornado and the plants like act as tornados’. Other children made comparisons between the spaces in their school and the spaces they saw on a school-trip to Liverpool: 'there was hardly any countryside’ one boy said. It seems that their experiences of the green spaces in their school frame how they perceive other spaces. In addition, the green spaces are an opportunity for children to speak to teachers about their lives beyond school. For example, one of the Year 5 teachers brought into the school a cutting from her honeysuckle. This was planted near the school entrance and has been growing very well. Two girls on a school tour pointed out the honeysuckle and explained that their teacher had planted it. They said that they had spoken to their teacher about it just a few days before our tour and she had told them it was a very sweet smelling plant. The two girls said that was probably why it was called honeysuckle, ‘because honey is very sweet’. It seems that the children are making connections between their school’s green spaces and those they have experienced at home and beyond. The children’s accounts of helping their parents with their gardening or visiting other green spaces are at odds with the view that children do not have access to green spaces within their everyday lives. However, the children’s engagements with green spaces beyond school, which the children seem eager to share, could offer interesting opportunities to consider issues around sustainability within lessons.
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Recommendations 1) Maximising access to green spaces a) Create sufficient shaded areas in the outdoor spaces: Both teachers and children complained about the lack of shaded areas within their school grounds. Teachers felt that the green spaces would be better utilised in the warm periods during the spring summer term if shaded areas were provided on the classroom terraces, green roof and playground. This would also create opportunities for children to learn outside the classroom for longer periods of time, as many of children felt that their lessons outside were very short. b) Transfer the ‘wild’ quality of the green roof to other outdoor spaces: In order to maximise children’s access to the wild green spaces they enjoy, such as the green roof, it would be possible to provide raised structures in the playgrounds and terraces to create small pockets of wild spaces. The raised structures would also limit children’s temptation to trample in them, as they currently do within the planting beds in the playground, but encourage children to engage with these plants through touch or smell. c) Provide further opportunities for ‘learning on the job’: Children learn through their informal use of green spaces. In particular, children’s engagement with the school’s green spaces whilst carrying out green jobs seemed to be significant to them. The children enjoy exploring these spaces and engage with them differently in a small group or pair as opposed to in a whole class. The provision of further opportunities for children to visit these spaces while on a job would foster more of these kinds of engagements. d) Provide spaces where children can be alone: It was important for children to have spaces where they can be on their own. In particular, children wanted the opportunity to distance themselves from the noisiness of many of the school spaces. The quietness of the green roof was one of the things the children seemed to value. Other spaces that reminded children of the green roof were those which were private, such as the music room.
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2) Using the green spaces as educational resources a) Exploring the differences between a range of green spaces: The school has different types of green spaces that require different types of care, such as the allotments and the green roof. Exploring the differences between these spaces could open up opportunities for thinking about the concept of sustainability and what this means. The children also have experiences of visiting other green spaces, such as their balconies or gardens, an urban park, the countryside or other cities, and considering sustainability in this way could also allow children to also talk about their experiences beyond school. b) Managing the Green Roof as an educational resource: The specialness associated with the green roof limits the access that children have to the green roof. For example, the children are aware there is a pond on the roof but do not get access to this. They would like to be able to get to the pond, especially to see the tadpoles. The children spoke about the importance of touch during their tours and would like to be able to ‘feel the plants on the green roof as well’. The management of the green roof as an educational resource could be reviewed to consider children’s educational engagement with the space, whilst also maintaining health and safety aspects. c) Access to resources in the outdoor spaces: One child spoke about the difficulties of working outside in terms of access to resources. For example, ‘[if] a pencil breaks and you say ‘could we have a sharpener’ and then [the teacher] will say ‘you’re going to have to go downstairs or we’re going to have to go together’.’ In order to support the spontaneous use of the outdoor spaces, which the teachers said was most commonly how they used them, perhaps a box of resources for use in the outdoor spaces could be provided for each teacher. d) The outdoor spaces as breakout spaces: One of the complaints from children is that when they are inside they ‘can’t go outside’ even ‘when you get hot’. (These comments may reflect the fact that the research was carried out in the summer months and the weather was particularly hot and humid.) However, the child’s comment does reflect a desire for more autonomy over their access to the outdoor spaces. Another girl suggests having ‘little mats and we could sit on it and then our teacher could talk and we could just write up what we were doing instead of being stuck in the classroom’. These comments seem to suggest using the outdoor spaces, and especially the classroom terraces, as breakout spaces.
Published on Jan 24, 2013
Paper produced by Centre for the Study of Childhood and Youth; Green Roof Centre at the University of Sheffield and part funded by Lindum Tu...