top of page

Risk-taking and resilience: lessons from the design, use and management of Japanese schoolyards.

Julie Mountain and Mary Jackson are heading to Tokyo this month, to attend the International School Grounds Alliance 2018 conference, and carry out research in elementary schools and early years settings. Our work is partly funded by the Great Britain Sasakawa Foundation and we are hugely grateful for their support, which has enabled us to arrange visits and interpretation, as well as our travel costs.

Our project aim is to learn how risk is safely incorporated into Japanese school grounds and early childhood settings design and explore how teachers manage risky play and learning at school.

Back in the UK we plan to develop and pilot training and write case studies and guidance for schools, designers and health and safety officers.

In Tokyo, we'll be working with landscape architect and academic Dr. Ko Senda, visiting school grounds which incorporate risk into their design and use. We will tour schools, talk with designers, school staff and parents to investigate the role of risky experiences in Japanese childhood and how they influence school grounds design and use.

Our research queries will include:

  • What is the attitude towards risk-taking in Japanese culture in general?

  • How do designers incorporate risk into school grounds?

  • What are the policies and laws that govern health and safety in schools?

Our initial thoughts will be shared with delegates at the ISGA conference in Yokohama, including reflecting on risk in UK schools compared to those we visit in Japan. We will extend our research with Japanese and international conference delegates, to develop a broader understanding of the issues around risk.

Final project outcomes will be presented to delegates at the 2020 ISGA conference, taking place in Scotland.

Understanding how a contrasting culture has embraced risk in learning and play will provide a refreshing, innovative approach that can be adapted and embraced by our target audience of schools, families and design professionals in the UK. We will share Japanese good practice in order to:

  • Better equip UK schools to provide risk-taking opportunities for children

  • Improve the capacity of UK design professionals to enable risk in learning and play

  • Provide a strong rationale and evidence base for policy makers, parents and inspectors in the UK

  • Create materials that will enable UK and Japanese schools to overcome barriers to risky outdoor play and learning.

We will do this by collating and evaluating the material generated by the study visits to schools and kindergartens, the conference delegate survey results and desk research and using it all to:

  • Create new learning resources, case studies and training modules

  • disseminating successful practice via professional journals and websites in the UK, Japan and beyond

  • lecturing and speaking at national and international conferences.

Learning through Landscapes (LTL) is the UK’s national school grounds charity and is the lead organisation for this project and has committed staff time and resources to the development of this project. In addition, LTL is the organiser of the follow up conference in 2020 in Scotland at which our final project outcomes will be presented. LTL was a founder member of the ISGA and retains a crucial role in advising and supporting schools beyond the UK. It has a strong connection with Japan through its professional relationship with Dr. Ko Senda and the Environment Design Institute. Mary Jackson, UK landscape architect and teacher, will be carrying out this project on behalf of LTL.

  • More information about LTL’s 30 years of support for school grounds in the UK can be found here:

Play Learning Life (PLL) is a not for profit social enterprise supporting UK schools, kindergartens and families and enabling them to make the most of the wonderful opportunities outdoors offers for learning and play. PLL has committed staff time and resources to the development of this project. Julie Mountain, early childhood landscape designer and educator will be carrying out this project for PLL. Julie worked in Japan and South Korea in January 2017, visiting a number of fascinating kindergartens. She was struck by the positive approach to outdoor risk taking in Japanese kindergartens and thus was this project inspired.

Dr. Ko Senda is a highly respected early childhood landscape architect, based at Tsurumi Junior College in Yokohama. Dr. Senda also works with the architecture practice Mitsuru Senda: Environment Design Institute and has published many works internationally. The Mitsuru Senda practice has been renowned internationally for its play and school projects for over 40 years. Dr. Senda is conference organiser for ISGA 2018.

Our strong existing partnerships with other UK organisations such as the Landscape Institute, the Council for Learning Outside the Classroom and the Play Safety Forum will allow us to share our findings and the resulting resources to targeted sectors, each of which is also able to disseminate further. In addition, our findings will be available for the 10,000 plus schools participating in the Outdoor Classroom campaign. As experienced trainers we will develop workshops that can be offered to schools, head teachers, designers and health and safety officers on the benefits of risk in school grounds for children.

Background reading:


Featured Posts
Recent Posts
Search By Tags
No tags yet.
Follow Us
  • Facebook Basic Square
  • Twitter Basic Square
  • Google+ Basic Square
bottom of page