On September 4-6, 2017, 130 landscape architects, designers, educators, school principals, local representatives, and scientists from around the world gathered in Berlin. Representing 21 countries from around the world and numerous educational systems, all were united by one goal: transforming standard schoolyards into a diverse array of landscapes for playing, moving and learning!
Conference participants were immersed in a wide variety of learning experiences. On Day One, lectures provided international perspectives on the importance of well-designed open spaces in educational institutions. Specific topics included schoolyard plans created by undergraduate students in Denver, USA and Japan; the very first attempts of designing outdoor playgrounds in China; alternative educational concepts of natural and environmental schools in Sweden; and innovative educational concepts in Germany. Presenters discussed the need to rethink and design learning spaces in a completely different way, not only indoors but especially outside.
Excursions across Berlin gave the participants first‐hand experience in Berlin’s innovative schoolyards. They were able to witness directly and concretely how only outdoor areas are capable of providing children and youth with direct contact to the natural environment. Natural phenomena, weather and climate, animals and plants, and natural elements such as water, earth, and air were experienced together with the children, and understood as part of an "Education for Sustainable Development".
On the last day of the conference, participants joined together with pupils of the Otto-Wels Primary School to transform the schoolyard with 12 artistic workshops, including creating mosaics, wicker igloos, stone and tree carvings, painting, and building balancing structures. These crafts brought to life a design developed with intensive participation of the school community and and provided a wonderful sense of achievement, and connection on which to end the conference. It made evident how creativity, teamwork, pleasure, fun and mutual support enabled people of different cultures to reach a common goal that everyone could be proud of: changing together the "Schoolyard Living Space" positively, child-‐friendly, ecological and sustainable.
Overall the conference was a great success. The new ideas and connections made through the lectures, workshops, excursions, and other events provided an impetus for further learning and action to all participants and their home institutions and organizations. We hope that the excitement it generated will encourage imitation across Berlin, Germany, and around the world!
“It is urgent to implement the planning and design of open spaces for children, whether in schools, kindergartens, living areas in cities and countryside. This must be done according to child‐appropriate design criteria and with a serious participation of the users, or by schoolyard designers who are specialized in user-oriented open space design. In-depth teaching, research, practice-oriented study projects, in-service training and, of course, continuous interdisciplinary exchange are urgently needed on this topic.”
— Manfred Dietzen, conference leader