Atelier Session: Exploring City as a School

26 March 2024

Authored by Hayball

We often consider the classroom as synonymous with learning, where each year, teachers and students are assigned rooms as locations in which to fulfil the educational requirements of the curriculum. Conversely, play is considered the domain of the exterior, where children go outside ‘to play’ during break times.

With this in mind, what opportunities lie latent in the typical ‘non-learning’ school environments, including their buildings as well as their connections to the surrounding neighbourhood? And how might play as a vehicle for learning become more integrated into the school day, beyond recess and lunchtime?


“Always design a thing by considering its next larger context
– a chair in a room, a room in a house, a house in an
environment, an environment in a city plan” – Eliel Saarinen


Last year, we had the pleasure of exploring how the classroom and the city could be interwoven as a tapestry for both learning and play. Together with an international group of educators from the Reggio Emilia Australia Information Exchange (REAIE) conference, we ran an Atelier session in the Hayball Melbourne studio where participants worked across a range of scales – from classroom, to building, to school grounds, to the city – to explore the potential each domain offered for learning and play.


Through the collective act of making, rich and creative conversations took place, opening minds to think beyond existing school structures and spaces. As each group shared ideas for the potential for learning across of a range of spatial scales, educators wove together a suite of learning opportunities to create a series of engaging and dynamic learning programs embedded within real-world contexts.


Thanks to all the educators who took the time out to ‘play’, and to share ideas, opening minds about the spaces around us and how these different environments can be intertwined. In seeing every space and place as an opportunity to learn, we can collectively shift from the status quo of a ‘school in the city’, toward the richness offered by the ‘city as a school’.


Authors: Fiona Young and Emma Parkinson

Special thank you to Kylie Payman, Early Childhood Teacher at Melbourne Girls Grammar School for offering her school as a case study for this Atelier session.