The Best School Designs Connect Kids with Nature

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“Outside is for play; inside is for learning.” Thankfully, that outdated approach to education has gone by the wayside. Teachers and administrators today understand that providing more exposure to the natural world not only helps kids develop a stronger connection with the environment, it energizes their studies in all areas. Rather than counting the minutes until their next recess, young learners in schools with progressive and creative designs know that they’ll be exposed to the great outdoors in one way or another throughout their day.

But, a healthy integration of indoor and outdoor spaces doesn’t happen by chance. Whether in a new building or an addition to an existing structure, it requires a commitment from school administrators and the guidance of designers, architects, and builders that have the skills, certifications, and experience to turn a lofty vision into a healthy reality.

Thoughtful School Design that Enables Enriching Connections

Many of today’s school board members and school administrators grew up in an age when the primary (and maybe only) consideration for classrooms and school buildings was how many square feet were needed to accommodate the student body. Cookie-cutter school facilities dot the landscape in every city and town in our country.

To their credit, these officials have been able to look beyond their personal experience and envision classrooms that don’t isolate kids from the world but rather immerse them in it. Consequently, they are open to exploring some of the many ways that thoughtful school design can connect kids with nature including:

  • Outdoor learning areas. Not just a pitstop on the way back from a nature walk, these spaces can be used in exactly the same way that indoor classrooms are used, but with the benefit of the positive stimulation that some sunshine and a fresh breeze can provide.

    Slate School courtyard

    The details of the natural elements that we incorporated into Slate School’s design.

  • Natural light and natural ventilation in indoor classrooms. The concept of “daylighting” can both help a school save on the energy required for indoor lighting, it can also help children feel more connected to the outdoors even when they are inside. And, natural ventilation is literally a breath of fresh air.
  • Nature “microcosms.” Features like the window boxes for plants and butterfly gardens just outside a window that we incorporated into our Greenwich Academy project, as well as hanging baskets and small gardens tended by students, can serve as beautiful little reminders of the bigger world around them.
  • Natural play environments. Playgrounds don’t have to be populated solely by stainless steel slides and swings. As we demonstrated at our Friends Center for Children and Slate School projects, natural and organic elements can be incorporated to help foster a connection to the environment.
Friends Center playground

The playground at the Friends Center for Children—surrounded by trees and composed of natural materials.

Respecting and Embracing Both the Digital and Natural Worlds

At Patriquin Architects, we leverage new technology to the fullest — from advanced design tools to the virtually limitless information resources on the internet. So, we understand the benefits of living in the digital age.

But, we also understand, like educators do, that if we let our children stray too far from their roots as flesh-and-blood creatures that inhabit a physical world, they will miss out on many enjoyable and enriching experiences. Watching a toad hop across a computer screen will never elicit the squeals of delight that watching a toad hop across a path and under a bush will!

That’s why we love working with stakeholders to produce school and classroom designs that both enable 21st century learning and create opportunities for the imparting of some age-old wisdom. In architecture as in life, the key is balance.

If you have questions about a project you are considering or about the many ways we help schools merge indoor and outdoor learning, please contact us at your convenience.