Guiding Principles, Context and Background
The non-profit International School Grounds Alliance (ISGA) is a global network of organizations working to enrich children’s learning and play through improving the way school grounds are designed and used. The wellbeing of children and the ecological diversity of their learning landscapes are intrinsically linked. The ISGA aims to support all schools in making the most of the opportunities excellent school grounds afford. We invite like minded organizations and professionals to become ISGA members and collaborate to nurture and grow this international movement. Please join us.
The international school grounds movement is growing rapidly and flourishing in many places. Schools near and far are reimagining their grounds, replacing extensive paved surfaces with a vibrant mosaic of outdoor learning and play opportunities. Schools in dozens of countries are leading the way, finding innovative approaches that weave learning into their landscapes, diversify their recreational offerings, enhance their local ecology, and reflect their unique location and cultural context.
“Children around the world, growing up in very different environments and cultural settings, all need engaging childhood learning and play experiences for healthy development and enjoyment,” says ISGA co-founder Sharon Danks of Green Schoolyards America, in California. “The ISGA is not only a resource, but is also a call to action for teachers, parents, and students to go outside, improve their school grounds and explore the world first-hand.”
The ISGA believes that school grounds should:
- provide powerful opportunities for hands-on learning
- nurture students' physical, social and emotional development and wellbeing
- reflect and embrace their local ecological, social and cultural context
- embrace risk-taking as an essential component of learning and child development
- be open public spaces, accessible to their communities
The ISGA does this by:
- focusing on the way school grounds are used, designed and managed
- facilitating a dialogue about innovative research, design, education and policy
- fostering partnerships between professionals and organizations across the globe
- organizing international conferences, gatherings and other programs
- advocating for student and school community participation in the design, construction and stewardship of school grounds
- promoting the value of enriched school grounds as uniquely positioned, engaging environments for children
School grounds are crucial childhood landscapes, both in terms of the considerable time spent there and the messages to children (both explicit and implicit) that come from their design and care. They are located in almost every neighborhood, town and city around the world, and often act as important community gathering places in addition to their roles as places of learning and play during the school day. For many children, school grounds are the primary place they play outside—so what they experience there resonates with them and helps to shape who they are.
“In this rapidly urbanizing century, there has been a substantial erosion of children's outdoor time both for play and learning in the space of a single generation. The reasons for this decline - as well as the negative repercussions - are numerous. With ISGA we want to address these issuesand reverse the trend.” says ISGA co-founder Cam Collyer of Evergreen in Canada.
In today’s world, children’s opportunities for outdoor learning and play in nature are disappearing around the globe, due to a variety of influences that include:
- cities that are poorly designed for both children and natural systems
- over-programmed childhoods that leave children with little free time
- powerful parental fears of "stranger danger" and an increasing fear of risk and liability
- school grounds that are barren expanses with little to support children’s play and learning
ISGA co-founder Mary Jackson of Learning through Landscapes in the United Kingdom says, “As research from around the world tells us, learning and play outside can have a truly positive impact on our children. Their results improve, they concentrate more in lessons, they develop their interpersonal and social skills and have improved mental and physical health. Already many schools around the world are seeing this is true as they develop and use their grounds for the benefit of children, but there is still a long way to go and we want to be able to share lessons learned with schools across the globe. The ISGA is a great way of sharing these lessons.”
The International School Grounds Alliance brings together a wealth of experience in the fields of school ground use, design, education and management around the globe. The ISGA formed in Fall 2011 as a result of the Engaging Our Grounds: International Green Schoolyards Conference held in California in September 2011, co-hosted by Bay Tree Design, inc., San Francisco Green Schoolyard Alliance and New Village Press/ADPSR. This event was the first international green schoolyard conference held in the United States, and the second in a new series of international school ground conferences organized by the ISGA’s three co-founders: Cam Collyer, Evergreen (Canada); Sharon Danks, Green Schoolyards America (USA); and Mary Jackson, Learning through Landscapes (United Kingdom). The conference series began with an international school grounds conference in Winchester, England in June 2010, entitled The World Outside the Classroom, hosted by Learning through Landscapes.