Could urban farms be the preschools of the future?

Could urban farms be the preschools of the future?

Is it ever too early to start teaching children where their food comes from? This preschool (and we at Ooooby!) don’t think so.

In an age where many young Western children are well-acquainted not only with televisions but also with iPads and mobile phone apps, it is becoming increasingly apparent that the next generation of children are less engaged with nature than ever before.

The video-game era has meant less time outdoors and more time in front of computer screens and televisions, but one group of Italian and Dutch architects is hoping to change that. Their proposal, titled “Nursery Fields Forever”, won this year’s AWR International Ideas Competition (the challenge was to design a novel nursery school model for London). Instead of classrooms, the school would feature open spaces where vegetables could be cultivated and animals could roam freely. The buildings would be surrounded by livestock pens and garden plots, and in addition to practicing sustainable farming, the 4- and 5-year-olds would also be introduced to the concept of renewable energy through wind turbines and solar panels located on the school grounds.

“The dominant preschool system keeps children in classrooms, where plants barely peek out from the window, and animals are only visible in places like zoos”, said Jonathan Lazar, one of the architects. “The absence of direct experience has completely misled children’s perception of the world and of its most basic processes. It’s not rare to find children who ignore that the milk they drink comes from cows or that beans don’t sprout in cans.”

Urban settings especially, Lazar says, obscure natural processes that are fundamental to our understanding of the world we inhabit. Nursery Fields Forever aims to dissolve the gap between education and environment, offering instead “a real hybrid between a farm and a school where children’s physical, social, emotional, and cognitive development would be encouraged by interaction with plants and animals.”

“We think that kids should enjoy nature,” says lead designer Edoardo Capuzzo Dolcetta. “So we designed this strange school: no classrooms, but open spaces where vegetables grow inside and animals can come in too. It’s a mixing of the two things, school and nature […] In the big cities, like London or Rome, we think that it’s very important to put out green space where kids can grow.”

The concept is based on a hands-on approach to teaching, whereby the children would interact first-hand with food and nature, therefore building up a connection in the early years that would continue on throughout their lives. The designers see the concept being more beneficial to children who are raised in cities – who often have far less contact with nature.

Would you like to see this concept in Christchurch?