What makes the perfect classroom design?

To make the ideal classroom design, consider a detached building that allows pupils to see the natural world around them with good use of natural / eco lighting and applying eco-friendly materials for the build. 

Eco Classrooms - outdoor learning focus

Eco-classroom designs will have environmental considerations at every stage of construction and provide a 'treehouse' feel for the pupils so that there is a sense of happiness created being surrounded by nature. As the children learn about protecting the environment, the classroom acts as a case study in terms of the construction process and renewable energy generation can be integrated to fully adhere to the 'eco-classroom' definition.

Ofsted cite the curriculum guidance for the Eatry Years Foundation Stage: 'the indoor and outdoor environments should be linked so that children can move freely between them.’ Their findings in one best practice example was as follows:

Young children in the Foundation Stage moved independently from indoors to outdoors, staying with their own choices of activity. They were used to this free-flow, which enabled them to use their imagination and pursue their ideas with autonomy. It also helped them to develop their understanding of staying safe. They knew the routines and expectations well, which helped them to behave more independently or collaboratively as appropriate. They responded well to the questions and guidance of adults, who had been deployed carefully to ensure constant supervision inside and outside. Resources in the outdoor area were few but carefully chosen, including creative play items such as boxes or shapes, which could be used for different purposes and encouraged the children’s imagination and independence. These were changed often, according to the teacher’s planning, to meet particular identified needs and were compatible with the resources indoors. 

To learn and experience the outdoor environment you have to be out in it. The United Kingdom climate dictates that we can’t sit outside under a fig tree in the shade all year, so where possible, ensure all the elements of the design is based around the philosophy of minimising the barriers between inside and out to maximise the feeling of being part of nature and the good environmental citizenship that this will develop. A great example of that is the classroom we built for Bickley Park School where we wanted to create an outstanding learning space for young children that was bright, airy and a significant improvement on their current classrooms.

Bickley Park School in Bromley

When we visited the school once the pupils had settled into the environment it was apparent that the outdoor space was a seamless continuation of the indoor space, enhancing learning and making teaching that extra bit easier.

 

Tips for the perfect eco-classroom design

We’ve compiled some top tips to help you get the most from an eco-classroom:

  • To heighten the feeling that children are in a special place and not inside the main body of the school, the position of your classrooms should ideally be slightly detached from the main school as a free standing pavilion set within whatever outdoor open space the school grounds affords.
  • To allow both the physical flow of children from inside to out as well as letting the natural world be viewed from inside include large full height screens and doors.
  • Natural light and sunshine is essential to how we all feel. The use of sunpipes brings controlled bright light inside to replicate daylight and lessen the requirement to use artificial light and the energy these consume.
  • You can provide a sheltered environment to continue outdoor learning when otherwise internal learning only is possible by using covered canopies adjacent to glazed screens and doors.
  • Every element of the building designed for outdoor learning can be part of the education experience from the recycled insulation that keeps the building warm to percussion taps that use the minimal amount of water.

Secondary School Classroom Environment

When designing your eco-classroom, it’s important to consider every aspect of the building to make it as ‘eco’ as possible, here are some tips of how to make your eco-classroom as environmentally friendly  as possible:

  • Ensure all energy using appliance are AA rated to minimise energy use & where possible have a smart meter to show how the use of the building by occupants can be effected as part of the learning experience.
  • Use smart lighting in conjunction with good daylighting to minimise energy use. The building tells its occupants when they need extra light to help them learn.
  • Design with natural materials wherever possible and minimise the requirement for high embodied energy products such as steel and concrete.
  • Where possible use technologies that harness the power of the sun to heat water or generate electricity.

Visit other schools for ideas

If you are looking at any type of new classroom development, why not visit a school that has recently gone through the process of adopting the eco-classroom concept (here's an extensive list). Issue a polite request for a quick visit and talk to the pupils as well as the teacher(s) to gain valuable insight in what works with their new set up. See the impact that working amongst natural surroundings can have on the children and the benefit of teaching them about protecting the environment. Check out Danesfield Manor School's classrooms that capture such results and be inspired for your school's future.