Could nursery school farms be the way of the future?

Nursery Fields Forever 3
© Aut-Aut Architecture

An award-winning design blends traditional nursery school classrooms with a working farm, allowing young children to learn through gardening and tending livestock.

Imagine if the nursery school of the future were a farm, complete with vegetable gardens and animals, the tending of which would be part of a child’s daily routine. This glorious concept isn’t as far removed from reality as you may think. In fact, such a design, titled “Nursery Fields Forever,” was the first-prize winner of a recent architecture competition in which competitors were asked to design an ideal nursery school for the city of London, England, based on the following:

“[Nursery schools and primary schools] intend to provide a grounding for the child to start school, offering a range of structured educational experiences based on learning through play. A new kind of kindergarten design encourages kids to be their silly selves. What does a school do with 4- and 5-year-old kids? How should be the nursery of the future? How children should spend their days in these structures?

A group of four young architects from Italy and the Netherlands created the winning proposal. “Nursery Fields Forever” is a working farm that taps into young children’s natural attraction to plants and animals. Rather than having to take kids out into nature – something that’s difficult in urban settings – the kids would already be in a natural setting.

This could resolve one of the most basic problems facing young children today – an absence of direct experience that has “completely misled children’s perception of the world and its basic processes… This appears particularly true in urban environments where children often ignore, for instance, that milk comes from living animals or that beans don’t sprout in cans.”

A nursery-farm school would approach learning in three ways that follow the rhythm of the seasons, rather than fixed classroom subdivision:

1) Learning from nature (the 5 kingdoms of life, the 4 seasons, the 4 elements)
2) Learning from technique (how water is supplied, how sunlight can be converted to energy, how the Earth nourishes crops, how wind can power homes)
3) Learning from practice (planting, tending, harvesting, collecting eggs and milking cows)

Even infants can benefit from interaction with animals. ArchDaily writes, “Contact with animals like donkeys promote relaxation and curiosity in babies, as well as developing their immune system against common allergens and bugs.”

As the creators describe on their website, even shy children can flourish in a natural setting. Children are more prone to approach and interact with others when sharing a mission or a duty, and having a third relational component (i.e. plant or animal) can create a bridge between a less outgoing child and other potential playmates. It can also stimulate subjective processes such as the development of self-esteem and sense of responsibility.

“Children learn from teachers and assimilate through practice how to domesticate animals and plants. At the same time they establish a respectful relation with nature, with the human community and the places in which their life takes place. Organic, biodynamic and permacultural approaches are preferred in the ethical production with didactic ends that permeates the routine of the little farmers.”

While Nursery Fields Forever has yet to be transformed into bricks and mortar, it signals that change is on the horizon for outdated school designs. Interestingly, a majority of the other design entries also embraced natural settings, i.e. a park, a garden, another farm layout, which suggests a general shift in that direction.

Countless studies have shown that, when kids spend time outdoors, they remember more of what they study, they do better on tests, and are more inclined to eat vegetables after they’ve helped grow them. They are more active, healthier, and happier overall. A nursery-farm school, therefore, seems entirely logical.

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