The welcoming and relaxed milieu of the outdoors is perfect for learning that extends beyond classroom walls.

Schools can take education outside by turning unused or vacant areas of the school yard into interactive landscaped and outdoor areas like themed gardens or play areas built using natural elements such as wood, rocks and plants. These bring lessons to life, inviting creativity, and allow young people to engage with each other, their environment, God and creation.

In fact, learning can begin even before such an area is constructed.

“Inviting students to workshops to conceptualise the form and function of such gardens or areas challenges them while giving them ownership and belonging,” said Martin Crabb, specialist horticulturist and landscape designer at Programmed Property Services.

As projects progress, lessons in planning, conflict resolution, tolerance and understanding are also learned. Such skills last a lifetime.

Three schools in South Australia recently took learning outside with very successful, albeit different, outcomes.

St John the Baptist School in Plympton melded learning with gardening in the form of a biblically-themed garden. Students learnt about various plants the bible mentions and planted a selection of these in a garden they also helped design. Cuttings of these plants were later brought into the classroom, their aromatic scents bringing to life the teachings of Jesus’s parables as each plant’s significance was explained.

The school also planted an edible kitchen garden, where the next generation of gardeners were excited at getting their hands dirty in the planting as well as the reaping (and eating) of what they sowed. The project drew out innate qualities of the students, who even at a young age, displayed passion, interest and learnt how to share responsibilities.

Herbs and vegetables unique to their ethnic cooking enabled students to embrace their cultural heritage, while those common across all types of cuisines helped them identify with each other. “It was wonderful to celebrate both the diversity and the unity of the students. Who would have thought a garden could do that!” said the school’s Assistant Principal: Religious Identity and Mission, Angela De Nadai.

For St Mary Magdalene Primary School, their Aboriginal-themed garden provided a living link to Aboriginal culture. "The garden has become a real feature of the school and something the community is immensely proud of. Students love to talk about and share it,” said Dan Cowan, Acting Principal of the school.

Local indigenous plants, natural elements and student artwork reflecting the garden’s theme combine for interesting focal points. Reference codes along the walking path help students appreciate the symbolism behind the art and choice of colours. The plants, chosen for their traditional use in food, medicine, tools and even shelter, make lessons come alive. Unsurprisingly, the fruit of the Rhagodia Spinescans, which is used as red face paint, is a perennial conversation starter.

Meanwhile, to reflect its seaside location, Programmed helped All Saints Catholic Primary School at Seaford create a maritime-inspired playscape. Showcasing a boat and shop front, the previously unused area of the schoolyard now takes pride of place and, according to school principal Justin Cavuoto, is a much loved place to play and learn.

Taking learning outside through gardens and landscaped areas encourages the unfettered imaginings of the young and the not-so-young alike. As a result, many schools have also found such spaces, be they gardens or play areas, to be extremely multi-functional, equally suitable as to encouraging role-play as they are for assemblies or welcoming new families into the school community.

There are a myriad of combinations of elements, plants, structure and colour, allowing schools to create gardens as distinctive as themselves. All it takes is a little inspiration and a small patch of ground.