How we did it...

Resource pack focuses schools on surroundings.

Schoolchildren: project based on first-hand observation
Schoolchildren: project based on first-hand observation

PROJECT: My Square Mile.

BACKGROUND: The launch of a resource pack for primary schools aims to start children thinking about how their environment is managed.

WHO IS BEHIND IT? Design Commission for Wales, Swansea City Council education services, Carmarthenshire County Council education and children's services.

PROJECT AIMS: The pack aims to raise awareness of good design and the built environment among children.

SKILLS INVOLVED: Community consultation, urban design, education and sustainable development.

Schools throughout Wales are set to benefit from a free educational resource pack investigating good design and the built environment.

The initiative is run by the Design Commission for Wales, which champions high standards of architecture, landscape and urban design, and is designed to raise pupils' critical awareness skills and give them the confidence to discuss issues affecting their environment.

The My Square Mile pack includes a book and a CD of free images and notes that teachers can use to encourage pupils to explore their environment. The material is based on a two-year pilot programme to promote studies that celebrate local distinctiveness and identity.

The project was piloted in 33 primary schools in Swansea throughout 2005 and offered to schools in Carmarthenshire and Ceredigion the following year. In the first year, pupils and teachers worked with artists in a series of one-day residencies that explored their local environment. In the second year, the residencies lasted five days, with an architect visiting each school.

The pack starts with an exploration of the children's surroundings, where they encounter sights, smells and sounds. The idea is that pupils consider the relationships between people and places through close observation of their environment.

They are encouraged to think about how villages and towns have come to look the way they do and how the environment is shaped and managed. Among the topics that the programme tackles are climate change, neighbourhoods and communities, public buildings and hospital, school and office design.

"The project is close to our hearts. It uses the Welsh concept of our roots, the square mile, to introduce children to built environment issues that could otherwise be intimidating," explains commission chief executive Carole-Anne Davies.

"It gives pupils the opportunity to explore their neighbourhood, develop a greater understanding of the design and architecture of places and the climate change issues related to our physical environment.

"The pack provides a framework for study and offers suggestions for teachers on the introduction of themes and topics that are relevant to the national curriculum, such as sustainability and citizenship. There is huge flexibility in the project. It can be used to look into a variety of curriculum areas, including art, design and technology, geography, history, maths and language."

The pack acts as a stimulus for other schools to develop their own projects using the model and the copyright-free images and presentation materials on the CD. It provides a valuable resource that can be adapted to specific contexts.

Welsh Assembly Government environment minister Jane Davidson describes the project as "an excellent opportunity" for pupils to learn more about their local surroundings. "By looking closely at their surroundings young people can begin to understand how the environment is shaped and managed. The project aims to encourage them to take a greater role in effecting positive change in the future," she says.

"The pilot projects have shown that interest exists among children if they are offered the opportunity to engage in the distinctiveness and identity of their locale," she adds. "I hope teachers across Wales will take advantage of this resource to foster greater interest in design and sustainability among their pupils."

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