Friday, July 9, 2010

an inspiring outdoor environment in a primary school

I've just returned from the Australasian Association of Progressive and Alternative Education (AAPAE) Conference at Hurstbridge Learning Co-op in Victoria, and I'd love to share with you some pictures of their amazing outdoor learning space.

The playground is 16 acres of glorious bushland rich in possibilities to learn, create, build, imagine, explore and discover:

with creeks:

and fallen logs to climb:

There are cubby houses scattered through the trees, both natural:

and man made:

There is an abundance of creative garden spaces:

a chook shed:

and a veggie patch:

There are dirt patches to dig in:

and a sandpit with a handy tap in the middle of it:

Adventure playground equipment that blends in with the trees:

There are places to get together:

and many suprises dotted throughout the trees:

The Hurstbridge Learning Co-Op is a very interesting primary school: it has a flexible curriculum that acknowledges play and social interaction as fundamental to the learning process and children make free choices about what they learn and when.

With no hard and fast structure to the day, the children can choose to play outdoors all day if that is where their interests take them.  What a magical space to grow and learn!


  1. A magical space to grow and learn indeed! So much inspiration here not only for educators but also for parents considering what to add to their backyard.

  2. Hi Jenny

    How timely that we've both been visiting unique schools that emphasis the value of learning through play and the outdoor environment.

    For me it's lovely to see school grounds from other countries. What interests me about Hurstbridge is the use of natural woodland and bush combined with reusing materials and lots of loose parts. In terms of ideal or popular play spaces, these themes come up repeatedly. I'm wondering too, whether there is a high degree of parental and community involvement in this school too.

    I'm just about put together a long overdue post about Inverary Primary School - a very different environment - Scottish West Coast but the beauty of this place is how the grounds blend into the landscape.

    Best wishes

    1. As one involved in establishing the Co-op from before we aquired that site, I can say that it is utterly dependent on parental input ... though it might have changed, I'd doubt it.
      All were considered active teachers and learners, but the onus was on each family to commit one adult to half a day per week with youngsters AND to attend fortnightly night time meetings.

  3. thats it I am moving to Hurstbridge (and going back in time so I can go to school here)

    What a great place

  4. Juliet - you are right. Lots of natural, loose parts and they aren't precious about kids moving stuff all over the place to use in their play. And yes, a very high level of parent involvement makes this program work. They have a teacher who co-ordinates things, and then 3 parents each day (for 14 kids at the moment, although they take up to 30) - so that someone is always on hand to see what each child/small group is doing and run with it. So interesting.

  5. Michelle - I'm with you!
    Cath - my head is spinning with ideas for preschool and for our own backyard.

  6. The little touches that draw the eye are so creative - I love those ceramic totem poles and the archway that's been decorated. Food for thought and plenty of ideas to adapt!

  7. What I wouldn't give for 16 acres! Years ago, my wife and I came close to purchasing 10 acres of undeveloped land on Lopez Island (near us). This was before I'd started teaching. This place looks a lot like what I imagined making for myself!!!

    Also, as you might guess, I'm thrilled to learn that this is a co-op. You really can do so much more when you get your adult-child ratio down into 1:4, 1:3 range.

    It's really too bad they aren't fully enrolled. I'd like to see places like this THRIVING!

  8. Thank you so much for sharing these photos; what an inspiring place!

  9. This is awesome Jenny ... I'm speechless!
    Donna :) :)

  10. I've been to Hurstbridge LC-a long time ago when my son was a toddler (he's almost 10 now lol) I was very impressed, but unfortunately for many reasons it wasn't practical to send my kids to that school. I would SO love to recreate that garden at my children's current school though! Or start my own school *cues dreaming about starting a school again* ;-)