Asphlat to eco-systems: design ideas for schoolyard transformation

It’s fair to say that when this book landed on our desks at LTL, there was a bit of a fight over who would borrow it first; we are big fans of Sharon Danks’ work with US schools so it’s a real delight to finally see a copy of this much anticipated book.

And it’s a delightful book; meticulously researched, beautifully illustrated with full colour photographs (including many ‘before and afters’) and combining strong and persuasive arguments for change, with a clear, accessible writing style. Sharonhas travelled widely in Europe and theUS and there are stories and pictures from over 150 schools in 11 counties – including theUK.

Those of you who attended LTL’s International Conference last summer [2010] will no doubt recall hearing Sharon talk passionately about her work in San Francisco and across the UK; many of the stunning images she showed are reproduced here and the book is of enormous value for those alone.  Carefully chosen images illustrate Sharon’s points about simple, effective interventions and for those schools aiming higher, there are inspirational examples and pictures of what some schools have been able to achieve in their ‘schoolyards’ including keeping animals, renewable energy programmes, managing play spaces with running water and offering urban learners spaces that begin to replicate natural, wild environments that they may never visit for real.

Sharon’s work is strongly influenced by her commitment to environmental sustainability and many of the examples in the book showcase ambitious but realistic changes that schools have made in order to ‘do their bit’.  Many examples are drawn from the work of the Green Schooyard Alliance inSan   Francisco, where the climate is temperamental and water is at a premium.  Creating ‘green’ spaces in this sort of environment is a real challenge, but one that schools are increasingly taking on.  A selection of ‘before’ and ‘after’ pictures scattered throughout the book will amaze – can these really be the same schools?  But yes – they are, and alongside the motivational pictures are case studies that explain the rationale and the processes behind the changes.

I’d recommend this book to any school – Primary or Secondary – or PTA with an interest in taking learning outdoors, becoming a ‘greener’ school or providing richer play experiences for children.  It’s also an invaluable text for designers and planners, offering guidance on materials, planting, adjacencies and sustainability, based on real life, successful examples in a wide range of different school contexts.

The easiest way to get hold of a copy of Asphalt to Eco-systems is via an online bookshop such as Amazon.com.  Don’t let the fact that it’s an American rather than British text put you off – if you are interested in broadening your curriculum outdoors, or focusing on becoming a more sustainable school community, you’ll find both inspiration and practical help in this book.

I originally wrote this review for the Learning through Landscapes’ subscription newsletter, Outlook: visit www.ltl.org.uk for details.

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