“There are three teachers of children: adults, other children and their physical environment.”
These are the words of Loris Malaguzzi, an acclaimed early childhood educator from Italy whose belief in the ‘third teacher’ is being embraced by private schools in Canada as they design, construct and reinvent their buildings to enrich the learning experiences for their students and staff.
At Walden International School in Oakville, Ont., learning starts quite literally at home. The original school building was constructed as a family home by a Swedish gentleman who immigrated to Canada in search of an improved educational system for his son. The bungalow-style structure has seen several expansions over the years, yet continues to reflect its heritage, providing a scale and warmth conducive to the Walden educational program.
Students, guests and families describe a welcoming, transcendental feeling when they enter Walden’s lobby that is hard to articulate.
“The first time I walked into the school I felt a sense of calm and comfort,” says Daphne Perugini, head of school. “There is so much natural light with the large windows and skylights in the foyer. There are also rugs on the floors that absorb noise and add to that that sense of calm.”
Perugini says it is typical for the school’s overhead lights to be turned off in favour of natural light or LED lights that mimic natural sunlight. Careful planning and thought went into creating a classroom outdoors for students in pre-kindergarten to Grade 8, to expand their horizons and offer new and authentic ways for academic subjects to be explored and shared.
New ways of learning are top of mind at St. Clement’s School in Toronto, where 470 girls enrolled in Grade 1 to Grade 12 live, learn and grow together under one roof. In 2020, the school declared a new vision for learning that recognized the process of learning is as important as the outcome.
After several renovations in the past years, an exciting new expansion is set to open in January 2024. While not adding to enrolment, the expansion adds one-third more physical space.
Martha Perry, principal of St. Clement’s School and a former graduate, says considerable planning and thought has gone into the kinds of spaces that will support the school’s new vision.
“We spoke with students, staff and alumni and asked what was important to them,” Perry says. “They said they wanted a mix of small and large spaces and quiet places to encourage learning and collaboration amongst students, staff and the community. Community is important to who we are and to the well-being of our students and staff.”
“Windows and skylights will offer plenty of natural light and sight lines to nearby trees and nature,” Perry adds. “More of our staff will also have offices with natural light.”
Perry describes brightly painted walls and student hubs where students, staff and family members can gather. The school library will double in size with larger and smaller seminar rooms and quiet spaces.
A new art studio and dedicated design space for the school’s renowned robotics program is generating plenty of excitement among students and teachers.
Set on 220 acres in the rural community of Okotoks, Alta., Strathcona-Tweedsmuir School embarked on a physical transformation that facilitates gathering and natural connections and supports a sense of wellness for students and staff. The province’s only independent kindergarten to Grade 12, International Baccalaureate (IB) continuum co-ed day school, Strathcona-Tweedsmuir underwent a 37,000-square-foot expansion and 15,000-square-foot renovation after more than a decade of planning.
Where windows once overlooked parking lots, architects designed high ceilings and glazed glass throughout the interior of the building, contributing to a feeling of openness, light and positivity. Coloured baffles descend from the ceilings above, mitigating noise and adding to the sense of calm. “Gathering Stairs” beckon to visitors, inviting them into an arts commons for performances and gatherings of up to 200 people.
Lara Unsworth, head of community relations at Strathcona-Tweedsmuir School, says the middle school has also experienced a refresh with new flooring, wall colours and artwork.
“We really want to focus on our students’ wellness,” Unsworth says. “We’re currently piloting innovative furniture that can be configured in different ways and easily moved around to support gatherings and community-building.”
Lakefield College School is a private day and boarding school located north of Lakefield, Ont. The campus, with 12 residential boarding houses and numerous academic, arts, theatre and sports facilities, is arranged much like a small village, encouraging students and staff to move through indoor and outdoor spaces year-round.
“It helps that our two extensive waterfront campuses situated on 315 acres offer numerous sports fields, forests, a school farm, outdoor skating rink, over 12 kilometres of Nordic and cross-country trails, and more,” says Dean Van Doleweerd, assistant head, learning. “We find our students grow their sense of love for the outdoors and adventure, and develop a willingness to take calculated risks, as they challenge themselves more and more, promoting personal growth, confidence and ultimately happiness.”
An independent day and boarding school for girls, which has roots dating back to the 1890s, Havergal College has been on the same 22-acre space in midtown Toronto since the early part of the 20th century. With the goal of future-proofing the next generation, Havergal College set in motion a plan to expand its upper and junior schools with purpose-built spaces to inspire learning and encourage self-discovery.
Launched in the fall of 2020, Havergal’s innovative new facilities were purpose-built to inspire learning and encourage self-discovery.
“Our learning spaces in the new upper school art, design and technology wing inspire students to make and think visually with floor-to-ceiling whiteboards, and simple-to-use wireless connections to screens,” says Garth Nichols, vice-principal, innovation, and experiential learning, Havergal College. “The windows of the second and third floors of the building overlook ivy-covered walls, and one of my favourite effects of the building is walking through our gardens looking at these new windows that reflect the ivy-covered walls of the heritage sections of our buildings.”
Nichols says there’s also an innovation hub, HC-X, with an open concept, wooden learning bar and glass walls. “Students just love the look and feel of these spaces while they are creating and learning.”
Havergal’s junior school art and STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) classrooms were built near each other to foster collaboration between the two disciplines. Music spaces were designed with acoustically superior classrooms for vocal and instrumental instruction and practice rooms for breakout sessions and visiting artists. A new dining wing features floor-to-ceiling windows overlooking the Burke Brook ravine, connecting students with nature and uniting Havergal with the world beyond its ivy walls.
By purposefully designing their physical environments, private schools are creating space for the “third teacher” to work with staff and students to create a deep and memorable learning experience.
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