Tag Archives: hardscaping

the completed Manor College outdoor classroom

Guest Blog: Designing an Outdoor Classroom

Outdoor learning isn’t a new new concept: outdoor classrooms may have become increasingly trendy in recent years, but California has an “environmental education” movement dating back to the 1960s, while Waldkindergärten (“forest kindergartens”) started cropping up in Europe as early as the 1950s.  With the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, historians and journalists pointed out that open-air schools helped curtail the transmission of tuberculosis and other contagious diseases in the early 1900s, and may prove useful in the present crisis.

Last year, Manor College enlisted our help in creating a new outdoor classroom for the benefit of their students and faculty.  In this blog post, we’ll explore some of the design considerations that we encountered on this project.

Pop-Up or Permanent?

Some higher education institutions pivoted quickly to outdoor learning by employing temporary solutions – for example, UC Davis and the University of Virginia both utilized tents.  Other colleges, such as Saint Michael’s in Vermont, offer degree programs in environmental science, agriculture, and similar fields and have been fostering outdoor learning environments for years (Saint Michael’s established their Teaching Gardens in 2004).  How long you envision using your outdoor classroom will dictate the permanence of its components.  Our client had begun exploring outdoor learning spaces some years ago, including the addition of a gazebo in 2017, so our design and construction needed to stand up to long-term use.

Manor College's outdoor classroom gazebo
Manor College added this gazebo to the campus in 2017 but it was inefficient for its purpose. This is the site of the new outdoor classroom.

Purpose-Driven Features

Before jumping on the outdoor classroom bandwagon, carefully consider its intended purpose.  Will it be primarily used for small seminars, or need to accommodate larger groups?  Are you looking to construct something to host classes outside only when the forecast is cooperative, or do you need to factor weather-proofing elements (ex. overhead shelter) into the design?  Is this a space where lectures will be given, or does it need to be large enough to hold dance troupes, orchestras, or other performing arts ensembles?  Manor College opted for a simple “theatre in the round” approach, with a central circle surrounded by three tiers of seating, making it a multi-purpose space suitable for a number of uses.

close-up of hardscaped outdoor classroom at Manor College
The terraced seating was a natural fit with the gentle slope of the location.

Location, Location, Location

Choosing the right spot for your outdoor learning space is an important decision.  Tucking it into a quiet corner of the campus may seem ideal to reduce distraction, but putting it too out-of-the-way may deter faculty from holding classes there.  On the other hand, a location next to a high-traffic road, sports facility, or other bustling area may introduce too many distractions for effective learning.  Be sure to consider accessibility for all potential users of the space: a classroom that seamlessly facilitates wheelchairs, ASL translators, and other potential aids will make for a more welcoming experience.  When possible, it’s also nice to “go with the flow” of the surrounding landscape instead of against it.

The new outdoor classroom at Manor College is built into the side of a small hill; the terraced seating blends seamlessly into the surrounding slope.  Some attractive landscaping boulders and perennial shrubs provide a nice natural border for the space.  A smooth paved path connects the classroom to surrounding walkways, helping ensure its accessibility by all faculty and student body members.

hardscaped outdoor classroom, with Manor College banner in foreground
Planting progress: some attractive shrubs provide a lovely border to the new classroom.

Parting Thoughts

With so much of modern life bound to technology and various screens, it feels important as ever to maintain some connection to the natural world surrounding us.  Countless studies and newspaper articles demonstrate that outdoor education provides a variety of benefits, including more engaged students, higher academic achievement, and fewer absences.  While the sky’s the limit regarding the types of outdoor furniture and equipment you can include in such a space, our Manor College project shows that a relatively straightforward but thoughtfully designed structure can be highly effective.  If you have additional questions before getting started on your own outdoor classroom, don’t hesitate to contact Woodward Landscape Supply or us – we’re here to help! 

Author Info

For over 40 years, Souder Brothers Construction has provided a full range of services for commercial and high-end residential construction projects. Based in Horsham, PA we serve customers throughout southeastern Pennsylvania and western New Jersey. Visit our project galleries for examples of our work!

an outside fire pit is one of many hardscaping projects that may increase your home's value

Hardscaping Projects That Increase the Value of Your Home

If you’re considering making upgrades to your home or backyard, keep in mind that some will increase the future resale value of your property more than others. Of course, the most important aspect is that you and your family will benefit from and appreciate the upgrade, but it never hurts to plan ahead. A home project that will increase your home’s market value is the best possible option. However, the question is: what hardscaping projects can increase the value of your home the most? In the rest of this article, we’ll answer that question and go over everything else you need to know about certain hardscaping projects.

Continue reading

Installing Gas Fire Pits – What You Need to Know

The unofficial end of summer, Labor Day, has come and gone, and the weather is slowly transitioning from muggy and sweltering to cool and crisp.  Those of us who have hunkered down indoors for the past months due to mosquitoes, heat intolerance, or health concerns are anticipating those temperate fall days when we can go apple picking and host backyard get-togethers without worrying about bug bites, heat indexes, and poor air quality days.  There’s something magical about gathering around a bonfire to roast marshmallows or simply enjoy each other’s company, especially on a cozy autumn evening. 

But perhaps your old faithful firepit is looking a little drab these days, or the smoke from the burning logs triggers a family member’s allergies or asthma, or sometimes you simply find starting and tending the fire more effort than it’s worth.  How can you enjoy the nostalgic campfire warmth and flames without all the hassle?  Here at Woodward, we offer a great solution: gas inserts for fire pits.  There are all sorts of options, from pre-assembled kits to custom designs; we’ll go over some of the considerations and characteristics shared by all gas-fueled fire pits.

Continue reading
decorative rock landscaping on stairs with greenery

5 Benefits of Decorative Rock Landscaping

There is something peculiar about rock gardens. Rocks and stones represent a peaceful and grounded feature, which can truly be a remarkable addition to your yard. Besides being such a versatile element, rocks go amazingly well with water features and greenery. There are numerous ways you can add rock and stone to your garden area. By doing so, you will give your home an instant boost of curb appeal and a beautiful landscaping look. But, apart from standing the test of time, there are many more benefits to it. So, if you’re wondering how to improve your outside area, we’ve listed 5 benefits of decorative rock landscaping to help you choose.

Continue reading
beautiful flowering plants, around a fountain, in a small courtyard

What Water Feature is Right for my Outdoor Space?

Water features add aesthetic appeal to your landscape and produce soothing sounds and sights that lift your spirit and help you relax. Water features also attract interesting wildlife such as birds, toads, dragonflies, and bees to your property. However, installing a water system requires you to consider several factors, including the space requirements, budget, and maintenance. This post will give you insights into different water features and the factors to consider when installing one.

Continue reading

a fire pit in a backyard surrounded by big stones

5 Reasons to Install an Outdoor Fire Pit this Summer

With days getting longer and warmer as summer approaches, we have all the more reason to spend our free time outdoors. However, once the sun sets, it might be less tempting to stick around in your backyard. This is why it makes sense to install an outdoor fire pit this summer. This neat, unique hardscape feature will surely make your outdoor celebrations, family gatherings, and barbecues the talk of the neighborhood! Let’s see how.

Continue reading

10 Best Hardscape Ideas and Paver Designs for You!

We are all very busy with our lives every day. Be it work, studies, or household job, we don’t exactly take some time off to just stop for a minute. Wouldn’t you want to just take a minute to live in the current moment?

We know that the world around us is changing rapidly. Tall and strong architecture marvels stand where once there was natural vegetation.

Best Hardscape Ideas and Paver Designs

Source: https://www.dezeen.com/2017/08/16/central-park-tower-update-worlds-highest-residential-skyscraper-adrian-smith-gordon-gill/

Continue reading

How To Create Dramatic Landscape Lighting Effects

LightsWoodI’m Helen Reed from Let’s Tend The Garden, a new gardening blogger! Creating dramatic landscape lighting effects can be considered as a form of art. The reason for this is; it takes a considerate effort to bring out the piece of beauty. With lighting effects, you can create an outdoor design that will make you want to sit outside all night.

Below are some of the different ways to create dramatic landscape lighting effects.

Continue reading

Why Have an Outdoor Kitchen?

It has long been common to see families cooking outdoors in the Mediterranean. Nowadays, outdoor cooking has also become a popular trend in the United States. Homeowners enjoy having an outdoor kitchen in their backyard. Whether you’re building a new house or making better use of the space you have at home, providing a place to cook outdoors could be an excellent investment.

Continue reading