Designing and donating expertise for a new playground for the Inner Sydney Montessori school in Balmain was a particular brief, says Scott Carver’s Landscape Designer Esther Dickins.
“The whole curriculum is designed to give children a big picture of the world,”
she says, “including insights into how nature works.”
Many classes are held outside, aligning with the Montessori philosophy of allowing students freedom to work in the way they chose. Wherever possible, the aim was to provide learning experiences through the outdoor area.
Extensive consultation with the principal, the teachers and the broader school community helped Dickins devise the brief, which she approached from a macro and a micro level. So while younger students might be taught how to recognise all parts of a flower and categorise a leaf form, older children might use the outside space to find and identify birds and insects.
“It sounds funny for kids but it’s almost like teaching mindfulness, you’re teaching them that you need to look after your surrounds and put in work to look after plants and that it’s worth putting effort into and worth having a broader appreciation,” she says.
Dickins has created a wide array of uses. There is a productive garden, a sensory garden, an indigenous garden with native plants, fossils and a dry creek bed. To encourage physical movement, there is a space with uneven steps and rock logs and a bank for the children to roll down. Another part of the area is dedicated to imaginative play.
The hard build, including the decks, will take place over Christmas; shade sails will be set up but in time, once they have grown, trees will play that role. A Planting Day will be held after the summer break, at which the students and the broader school community will help with the planting, which will help build in ownership of the process. Additional elements to be added over time as fundraising allows.
Immersion in nature and its myriad elements is not something many children associate with going to school. For the lucky students at Inner Sydney Montessori, it will be the new normal, and a very welcome one at that.
The school’s progress video made over the summer break can be found here.