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St Francis de Sales College R-6 Nature Play Learning Environment

St Francis de Sales College and Alive Catholic Early Learning Centre wins National Award


St Francis de Sales College Reception to Year 6 and Alive Catholic Early Learning Centre was named the national winner of the Landscaping/Outdoor Learning Area category at the 2022 Learning Environments Australasia (LEA) Awards for Excellence in Educational Facility Design, held on Thursday 9 June.

This national recognition for the College’s redevelopment, follows those received at the LEA State Awards, winning the two categories of New Construction over $8m and Best Overall Education Project. Our project was the only South Australian school to be nationally awarded, or receive commendation status, across the eight categories of the national awards.

The original design brief was founded upon the educational vision that children will engage in inquiry-based and interdisciplinary learning, directly connected to the stunning hillside topography. Our unique setting was the catalyst for a design solution that blurred the boundaries between interior and exterior space, formal and informal learning experiences, providing new ways for staff and students to work together collaboratively and interdependently. Our learning environments are embedded in nature, with the built and natural environments brought together to positively impact on learners’ wellbeing, confidence, creativity, and spirituality. We have created continuous indoor and outdoor spaces that provide endless opportunities for discovery, promoting the concept that learning can occur wherever there is questioning, inquiry and investigation. The creation of a natural water course within the project was designed to be an interconnecting feature of the new campus, that provides outstanding nature play/learning opportunities for students. The creek line through the ELC and R-6 community, like a river and its tributaries, is connecting, flowing, and engaging.

Judges Citation:

“A dry-stone river landscape which connects a variety of outdoor learning activities that wrap snuggly around the built environment to provide a sense of place and belonging. The landscaping is an extension of the overall vision of the school, working with its low-key buildings, with its natural colours.

The landscape softens the school, makes it less institutional and provides a good range of different outdoor learning spaces that are open to interpretation. We did just wonder about more opportunities for shade.

The consultation process was extensive and inclusive involving all relevant stakeholders. The resulting desire was for the outdoor space to play an integral part in learning as both a space to learn and as a prop. Nature-inspired elements can be used in a variety of ways.

The design outcome is a river landscape interconnected the variety of outdoor activities with the buildings. Certain areas have been dedicated as learning neighbourhoods which expand the options for learning. Careful groups of natural timber trunk act as seating for group gathering, active play, rain garden, contemplation spaces etc. Each area has its own unique character, e.g. an outdoor maker space, kitchen garden, amphitheatre social space, natural water play, investigative native garden.

The outdoor spaces provide for further learning options, both as venue and as an immersive tool. The innovative design manages the natural water flow and guiding this into a man-made river that doubles as a learning tool for connecting the school's learning neighbourhoods.”

View the Category 7: Landscaping/Outdoor Learning Area Award Gallery.

To tour the facilities call 8393 1000 or register online at