Using outdoor furniture in learning environments

Have you noticed how well-planned outdoor learning strategies make schools shine?

Students seem engaged, happy and the school stands out.

Photo credit: Felton

Many studies expound the amazing benefits to children’s mental and physical health when they spend time learning and playing away from their usual classroom environment. When they are immersed in nature, embracing exciting adventures, experiences and communities they grow and develop creativity, imaginatively and intelligently.

In Ken Robinson’s 2006 talk, Do Schools Kill Creativity? he states: “We know three things about intelligence: One, it’s diverse… We think about the world in all the ways that we experience it. We think visually, we think in sound, we think kinaesthetically. We think in abstract terms, we think in movement.”

Photo credit: Felton

There are many reasons to create wonderful learning spaces within your school’s outdoor environment, so it makes so much sense. An inspired outdoor classroom area should be a consideration not just because children get so much from them, but because these spaces are also very practical. An ideal solution when schools need to expand their classroom space when class sizes increase, they can also reduce noise and maximise the use of school grounds.

School News looks at both creative and more traditional outdoor furniture ideas to help you create stimulating, relaxing and creative learning spaces in and around your school. Furthermore, a dedicated outdoor area with the addition of protection from the elements provides an ideal learning environment for hands-on lessons, especially conducive to messy art projects.

Photo credit: Felton

Experts tell us schools should ensure they meet Australian Standards and safety guidelines so look for ISO 9001 accreditations as an international standard for quality and consider what patented safety features items have.

Top tips for schools in the know:

Think carefully about the design and layout of your outdoor spaces and get advice from specialised suppliers; why not include your students as well?

Create some comfy meeting points to encourage peer group communication and help students build relationships; use a variety of benches, seating and equipment to construct gathering places for learning, playing or relaxing. Experiment with ‘buddy benches’ and other novelty seating ideas.

Consider furniture that has a dual purpose. Ask whether something can also be used for outdoor dining or to encourage social engagement? Or choose specialised seating arrangements that include items like bike racks.

Remember to provide a variety shapes and sizes of outdoor seating around the library, outdoor cafeterias, galleries, amphitheatres and any other spaces that students use.

Photo credit: Felton

Creativity flourishes in creative spaces: dare to be different.

Safety must also be a priority. Your furniture choices must be sturdy and durable; consider the amount of use, the weather conditions and make sure your supplier offers quality options that are built to last.

Maintenance is important. Find out how to care for your furniture and take that into account.

Installation: does your furniture need to be cemented into the ground or bracketed to a wall?

Graffiti: can it be easily removed from your chosen furniture?

We think that perfect outdoor furniture for educational premises is only limited by budget and lack of creativity.

 We spoke with outdoor furniture supplier specialist Gus White from Felton Industries about popular options and trends for schools.

“Current trends for furniture in outdoor areas include the use of colour to affect mood and learning, minimalist design to provide a sense of simplicity and order, and the importance of environmentally friendly materials that are recyclable and reusable and durable.

“Using colour not only brightens environments but can influence mood; warm colours are motivating while cooler colours help keep students calm and relaxed. Providing adequate and well-thought out seating in outdoor areas helps create positive environment for students during their break, giving them a space to meet, start a game, eat, talk and interact with friends.

Photo credit: Felton

“Well-positioned benches, outdoor settings and sheltered seating are great facilitators of social interaction and a buddy bench takes this one step further, offering a safe positive and happy place for kids to meet and become friends.”

He further advocated for schools to look into aluminium over timber outdoor furniture, citing moveability, durability and low maintenance.

Is modular seating still popular?

This is one trend that’s still on the rise. “Modular seating provides great versatility due to its adaptive nature and standardised ease of connectivity, so it can be readily moved and adjusted in accordance with specific or changing outdoor requirements. Benches are good examples of modular seating as they easily fit together and can be arranged differently, whether to form an interesting snake-like set up in a children’s playground or connected

Rosie Clarke

Rosie is the managing editor here at Multimedia Pty Ltd, working across School News New Zealand and School News Australia. She has spent 10+ years in B2B journalism, and has spent some time over the last couple of years teaching as a sessional academic. Feel free to contact her at any time with editorial or magazine content enquiries.

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