Naturskolan: Sustainability and Education in Sweden

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The Swedish are advanced in their resolve, their thinking and their actions around sustainability in all of its manifestations... from wind power, to eco hotels, to organic produce, to sustainability and nature education offices and programs as a part of every school district in Sweden.  According to current research Sweden is the most sustainable country in the world.

We were lucky enough to spend a day with Anders Kjellsson in Lund, Sweden visiting with his colleagues in their Naturskolan offices, and touring three schools where they work. Anders is a close friend and colleague of our colleague, Sharon Danks, author of Asphalt to Ecosystems: Design Ideas for Schoolyard Transformation.  From Anders, we learned that every every school district in the country works closely with an office like theirs to develop relevant, meaningful programs that emphasize learning outdoors, growing and harvesting, seed to table, adventure education, science studies, green school yards and sustainability theory and practice.

Anders picked us up at the train station on his bike and we walked together to the first school, right in the city center, an elementary school where we met with teachers who showed us the gardens, ponds, insect hotels and the bee hives maintained by students. Then, we shared a delicious lunch with the whole staff of the Lund Naturskolan office exchanging ideas about programs and curricula, the work that they do and the work that we do.

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After lunch and sharing, we visited an after school program that will forever be a standard for us when we think of eco-education, engaged, delighted children, and life lived to the fullest out of doors.  When we arrived it was pouring rain while a large, happy group of elementary students were enjoying an afternoon snack of organic strawberries picked nearby, a cake that they had made with flour they had ground, served by a group of girls still in their bee protection suits from working the hives.  They were all crowded together at outside picnic tables under a long arbor covered in vines and protected from the rain.  Some images are forever etched in our memory. This one is of them.

We then toured the campus of this extraordinary for us, (and not so unusual in Sweden), after school program.

A conference brochure of the 2016 International School Grounds Conference introduces Sankt HansgÄrden this way:

This is a youth centre with a unique architecture and a fantastic biodiverse forest garden. It is both a good place to produce food and the most imaginative playground possible. A key word here is respect; respect for the individual needs for plants, animals, environment and each other.

We found buildings with green roofs, extensive gardens, a barn with goats and rabbits, cared for by children in tall rubber boots, a clay studio, a forgery...We met Lennart Pranter, a builder, designer, carpenter and engineer who has designed and built all the buildings on this campus alongside the students who attend.  Sharon hopes to bring Lennart to San Fransisco for a project there.  Stay tuned for that.

Our third visit was to a preschool called Vinden meaning wind in Swedish.  We toured the grounds where small children have invented countless structures that have been consructed with the assistance of teachers and parents out of simple materials.  There are paths and low shrub woodlands and places to explore and be secluded.  There is a fire pit where Anders says they have a fire almost every day.  This place feels wild and wonderful, inventive and high spirited, a children's world where there are no limits to imagination.

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What a beautiful vision and hopeful place to be right now.  We feel gratified and grateful to have had these experiences and to be able to share them in some small way with you.  Go here to see a lovely, short video and learn a little more about eco school yards in Sweden and beyond. If you have an interest in the International School Ground Alliance, go to this site.  Their next international conference is in September in Berlin.  Probably, you could still go.  We are planning to attend one in 2020 in Scotland! Something to look forward to. In the meantime, we plan to use what we have learned to inspire our current work with schools.

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