Our Unique Environment – A “Backyard” For Our Children

As Melbourne suburbs accommodate ever more town houses and apartments in higher density living, expansive backyards are increasingly receding into the past. Children are rarely free to roam and explore the areas around their homes in ways that older generations remember. The role of play has diminished and so many children’s lives are now as densely organised as the areas we live in.

Whenever visitors come to Arlington they are struck by the large and rambling play grounds and the unique environment created for children – and children immediately respond to the possibilities. The Kindergarten is nestled at the heart of this environment. This special little environment has a real hill, an admittedly small rain-forest, a boat, vegetable gardens, a trickle-stream and plenty of sand and soil to mould into shapes and turn into mud.

The gardens are not partitioned off into playing fields. There is no asphalt, tree trunks are not wrapped in protective padding and there is real dirt, as distinct from the evil matter banished in so many advertisements for cleaning products. The ground is undulating; there are hills and ditches, even holes and many big, old trees. There are bushes and grassy areas that can’t really be called lawn.

For many of our children who now live in homes with small backyards and courtyards, this is paradise. The school’s distinctive physical environment is a setting in which children can further their independence and physical competence. The garden has uncultivated and dense shrubberies with ropes from which to swing, trees to climb and places to construct cubbies, the open workshop has real tools for the children to use.

While children are able to test themselves and grow in confidence in this environment they do not do so unsupervised. We have a number of measures in place to provide for the wellbeing of the children and these vary according to children’s age and development. The children are taught to use the grounds and equipment safely and are regularly reminded of the need for each one of them to exercise self-care and care for others.

Recently an expert in “Creativity in Schools” asked how we go about teaching creativity in the Primary School. I talked about many aspects of our program; about art and playmaking, about music and inquiry-based learning but quietly I knew that our environment plays an enormous part by offering our children a joyful place where they are free to imagine, to dream and to play – the perfect conditions for creativity to flourish.

In recent years the Secondary School, Blackhall Kalimna, has undergone something of a transformation. The campus is relaxed, welcoming and well equipped. The classrooms, specialist areas and facilities are attractive and accommodating, while ensuring that the students feel at home and have a sense of ownership of their school. There are no areas where students are not allowed access and rooms are not locked. Students are welcome to be in classrooms and use specialist spaces in their free time.

All year levels have common rooms and the students are welcome to use facilities and equipment at all times. The secondary students have a very pleasant recreation and study space in The Cottage, which they have taken great pride in renovating and decorating.

There is a court for tennis, basketball and a strange version of soccer as well as a circuit training area, down-ball and handball courts and table tennis. There are plenty of outdoor study and recreation spaces, a kitchen garden and an outdoor, wood-fired pizza oven!