Creating the Learning Forest
by David Epstein, October 13, 2015
Funny how business works sometimes. We had worked with Drew Alexander as director of the Anglo-American School of Moscow and when he became director at Leman Manhattan Preparatory School in New York City, he gave us a call. This was our first project in New York City, which is not quite as foreign as Moscow, but different enough from Vermont to be an exciting challenge.
Leman Manhattan had a multi-use space on the third floor that was uninviting to parents and institutional in feel (see photo above). Located in the heart of their early childhood program, they were looking for something that would capture the imagination of both parents and students and present the early childhood program in an attractive fashion. There were practical needs too – like the need to be able to have small meetings and performances, open space for free play and seating for parents and caregivers – all within the context of a stimulating environment for young children.
What a fantastic opportunity! The solution we proposed was the creation of a nature park. We dressed the columns as trees, added clouds to the ceiling and a river on the floor. At the rear of the space, we created the “mountain”, in essence a small raised platform that can be used as a stage or for seating. On two walls of the space, we added large photographic murals. The murals are panelized and are changed to reflect the season. There are three sets of panels – Fall, Winter and Spring/Summer (shown). Note how the river floor pattern and mural flow together. This effect was consistent for all three sets of murals (see other seasons’ panels below).
The change of the seasons is exciting for the kids. For these young children, learning about the seasons is part of their program and now the school has a space that helps introduce these ideas to them. The “mountain” is used for seating by students for short lessons, videos and performances. Parents and caregivers sit there to wait for their charges at the end of the school day. All in all, the space has proven to be a stimulating, age appropriate, child-centric space that both students and parents find inviting.
“The Learning Forest has quickly become a favorite multi-purpose venue for coffees, parent presentations, faculty meetings, and most importantly, student assemblies and other activities, from ‘reading in the woods’ to ‘theatre on the green.’ Being surrounded by the colors and beauty of the outdoors results in a peaceful, calming setting within the energized confines of a school.” – Drew Alexander, Head of School