The classroom has, for a long time, been the principal place for education; other spaces were considered instrumental or accessory. Each place in a school was designed for a specific use and remained unused at other times: for example, corridors were used purely to move within the school; the gym or laboratories were only used at set times and not for daily teaching.

Environments outside the school also fell into the category of spaces considered instrumental or complementary, designed as places in which to carry out certain activities, strictly related to their intended use, such as play and recreational activities or activities connected to motor activities. Flower beds and garden areas were often installed purely to add an aesthetic quality to buildings.

In order to investigate the use that Italian schools are making of outside areas to develop curricular educational activities and how these spaces are equipped with furniture and green areas to support teacher projects, the INDIRE research line – School architecture in collaboration with the Research Line on Small Schools launched a national survey to identify significant examples of schools that use outdoor learning environments for teaching, based on the INDIRE 1 + 4 Manifesto.

To define the outdoor learning environment, the research took as a reference the ‘target’ prepared by Higgins and Nicol (2002) with regard to the first two bands that identify the outside spaces within the school’s perimeter (playground) and those in the immediate vicinity (local neighbourhood), in places deemed as having natural characteristics (gardens, parks, reserves, rivers, etc.) or urban characteristics (rest areas, courtyards, squares, meeting points, etc.).

Two questionnaires will be issued:

  • one addressed to all the Reference Institutes of the first and second level schools;
  • one aimed at a stratified sample of Small schools across the country.

Both questionnaires will allow research into:

  • mapping the types of outdoor spaces on the basis of the 1 + 4 Manifesto (functional spaces) and a taxonomy on teaching environments (Seydel, 2018);
  • identifying the types of equipment (furniture and plants) also with reference to environmental sustainability;
  • describing how the outdoor space provided supports teaching. 

The survey will make it possible to obtain important information about how schools use their outdoor spaces, in what way and with what frequency teachers carry out teaching activities in them, how outdoor teaching is included in the school’s vision and what alliances have been created in support of an educational programme that relies on the use of outdoor spaces. The data should also provide a picture of how the spaces are set up and whether the furnishings and plants are functional to support the teaching activities. Finally, the questionnaire will also allow users to describe the reasons for not making use of outdoor spaces.

This is a large-scale participatory project in which all schools will contribute to the creation of a database of public interest.

The ultimate goal, in line with the INDIRE mission, is to guide research initiatives but also those of the regional and national school governance bodies, starting with what the schools actually propose or need. 

The outcome of the research, which will end with a publication, will aim to transfer the knowledge acquired to organisational bodies and entities through the involvement of schools and local authorities.

Stefania Chipa and Matteo Nardella

Montagnola Gramsci Istituto Comprensivo [Unified School], Florence (school architecture photo archive)

National survey to identify significant examples of schools that use outdoor learning environments for teaching, based on INDIRE’s Manifesto 1 + 4

Type: Survey

“Cluster” area
“Plus” classroom area
Educational Landscape
Teaching practice