The fourth International School Grounds Alliance (ISGA) conference has just concluded in Bali, with delegates from 14 countries attending to speak, learn, play and network with like-minded individuals and organisations. Play Learning Life was one of these organisations and I was invited to present a viewpoint on learning and play in the school grounds across the UK.
25+ years of experience supporting schools in the UK and beyond has provided me with a unique perspective and I’ve attended all four conferences – in fact, I organised the first one, at the Coombes Primary School in 2010 on behalf of hosts Learning through Landscapes. My PLL colleague Julie Mountain and I are both members of the ISGA’s leadership committee.
So what does the ISGA do and why does it matter? The Alliance is a global network of organisations and professionals working to enrich children’s learning and play by improving the way school grounds are designed and used. Alongside the regular conferences, the ISGA runs International School Grounds Month every May; these high profile global events aim to inspire and inform teachers and designers alike. As a democratic international network its voice can make a real difference; right now the ISGA is focusing on the importance of beneficial risk in school grounds and will soon be publishing a high level statement on this topic. The ISGA has also been campaigning to limit the power of the proposed Transatlantic Trade Agreement (widely reported in the press recently) to dictate they way children’s playspaces are designed and managed – in other words, to prevent play equipment manufacturers from deciding what’s deemed safe and what isn’t.
The ISGA leadership committee brings together researchers, designers and educators, all of whom want to make the experience of childhood better through the design and use of great school grounds. They co-ordinate International School Grounds Month each year and provide schools with ideas gathered from around the world to enable them to get out into the school grounds and make learning exciting and purposeful.
This year’s ISGA conference was the first in the southern hemisphere and meant that we not only had delegates, speakers and workshop leaders from North America and Europe but also from Australasia including Vietnam, Nepal, Japan, Australia and New Zealand. PLL joined presenters in talking about the breadth of activities that can take place in school grounds - whether growing crops, celebrating festivals or taking lessons outside. Others presented research on how to design schools grounds that keep children active, on strategies to enable pupils to become researchers themselves and evidence illustrating what makes teachers take lessons outside. We also heard from people just starting out on a journey of supporting schools as well as from organisations that have been developing outdoor learning programmes for over 20 years.
The next ISGA conference, ‘Green Grounds for Health and Learning’ will be hosted by the ISGA’s Swedish members and takes place from 12th - 14th September next year. More information can be found at www.greengrounds.se and absolutely anyone and everyone with an interest in making the most of school grounds is welcome to come along. Sweden has a long history of innovative outdoor learning and many delegates will be using the conference as an excuse to visit some of the incredible schools and kindergartens that have inspired teachers and policy makers from across the world.
Anyone can be a member of the ISGA. To find out more and to sign up to receive its newsletter, visit www.internationalschoolgrounds.org or visit our Facebook page – there are lots of delegate photos from the Bali conference on there too.