Client projects: Return visit Sjölunda School

Project facts

Client:
Sjölunda School, Lidköping Municipality, Sweden

Number of students:
approx. 300

Years:
Preschool-6

Number of staff:
45

Area:
6,500 m2 on two floors

Completed:
Autumn 2017

Back to the sustainable school of the future

In autumn 2017, Sjölunda School in Lidköping, Sweden opened the doors to its newly built, innovative and flexible learning spaces. Six years later, we went back to ask Principal Sofia Sabel Andersson how they succeeded in creating such a long-term sustainable school and how learning spaces affect well-being and study results. 

When did you say the school was built? Sjölunda School’s principal Sofia Sabel Andersson is used to the surprise of many national and international study visitors that the school with its bright spaces, soft carpets and upholstered furniture is actually no longer completely new. When the school was designed, she worked closely with former principal Elisabet Ingemarsson on everything from operational ideas, recruitment and interior design, and she has a clear picture of how it all turned out so well.

“The key was that Elisabet had a clear picture of what she wanted with the school. During the process, we involved both staff and the children, analysed our needs and asked ourselves what we would do, how we would do it and why. We took everything step by step, so we had the opportunity to test and evaluate the choices we made along the way,” she says.

Early in the process, the school worked closely with Kinnarps, with its sights firmly set on the goal that the physical environment should always support their educational principles and respect each individual’s needs and conditions for learning.

“We were incredibly particular that those who built and designed Sjölunda, and those who applied to be teachers, understood the school’s vision and shared our view that the children here are competent and have an inherent desire to learn and develop. You have to dare to question your usual ways of working and realise that today’s children have new ways of learning. This places demands on both the pedagogy and the interior design, as the two are connected,” says Sabel Andersson. 

The conviction, then and now, was that solutions must be customised to the teaching methods of today and tomorrow. Different activities require different spaces, and every child learns differently. Some enjoy working in groups, others need to be on their own, some want to stand at a high table, some prefer to lie on a carpet on the floor. And learning does not only take place in the classroom, the entire school needs to be a learning environment.

“We are clear that teachers can not only set up a traditional seating arrangement and be satisfied with it, but that they must also reflect on how they want to work and interact with their students. The physical environment should always be connected to the idea of learning and work with the children to help them move forward. Should we work individually or collaboratively? Can I be flexible with the furnishings I have? How do I plan the environment for successful learning? In short, you have to have an idea of what you want to accomplish with your operations before you furnish,” says Sabel Andersson.

The Principal’s tips!

Solutions that last over time

1.

To create long-term sustainable learning environments, start a joint process with school management, teachers, pupils, architects and interior designers. Keeping learning central, ask yourself what, how and why you should furnish in a certain way. Operations must always come before furnishings. Leave space to try things out and make evaluations along the way. And make sure to keep the vision alive through, for example, conversations with the students and the staff. 

2.

Create different spaces and seating options for different activities and learning styles. Both in each classroom and in the school as a whole. Children learn in different ways and it is important to create flexibility and variety. Our experience is that such solutions stimulate enthusiasm and creativity, provide an ergonomic school environment and meet children’s needs better than traditional classrooms. Build in flexibility to easily make changes and customisations. 

3.

Dare to choose upholstered furniture. It does wonders for the study environment by dampening noise and increasing well-being for students. The physical environment should support children in learning, and materials and colours also play a major role. Include the children in taking responsibility for the school environment and explain why it is important. The presence of adults allows you to catch things right away when they happen.

Team spirit, Responsibility, Joy

The tone is already set in the main entrance, where bright and inviting staggered seating welcomes the students with the values “Team spirit, Responsibility, Joy”. Here, students can gather in large or small groups, planned or spontaneously. Next to it is the library with several soft seating options, and directly above the staggered seating there are several areas for individual work or group tasks. Each classroom has the option of choosing a place according to needs and conditions  at the time – for example, sitting at a high table, hanging out in an armchair or lying on a soft carpet on the floor.

The idea is also that classrooms and other spaces can be quickly rearranged for teaching in smaller groups or for project work, for example. To enhance its flexible way of working, the school has integrated an advanced digital learning environment into its daily work. 

“We believe that schools must change with society and that one of our tasks is to prepare our students for a future of working. That’s why we’ve broadened our perspective on the school environment and mixed school furniture with office and meeting furniture in a way that suits both our students and teachers. It’s fascinating to see how children find new ways of sitting in, for instance, an upholstered lounge chair,” says Sabel Andersson. 

The teachers: How does the physical environment support your work?

Ulrika Jahnstedt, Senior teacher in Swedish and social study subjects

“Different children have different conditions and needs, so our interior design, with its different types of flexible learning environments, is extremely valuable in my teaching. The layout and furniture enable us teachers to always see the children, which creates more safety and improves their performance.” 

Emma Gustafsson, after-school programme and physical education teacher

“Our upholstered furniture contributes to pleasant acoustics and the soft rugs give the students a safe space where students can lie down and read or write. Variation is important so that students can choose whether to sit or stand at a high table, or relax in a soft sofa or armchair, for example.”

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The Principal about the physical environment

It is one thing to create a school that feels inspiring and innovative when it is new, and another to preserve the feeling and values year after year.

What is the secret behind Sjölunda’s success with this?

“It’s always a challenge to stick to your original idea, especially as we have increased our number of students and teachers these past years. A simple answer to the question is that we did it right from the start. We carried out an analysis, developed a vision, had the physical environment in mind early on in the work and included both the staff and the children in the process. This lays a good foundation for creating long-term operational sustainability.” 

But how do you keep the vision alive on a daily basis?

“A lot of the people who were with us from the beginning are still here. Staff turnover is low because people are generally happy here, which is a good foundation. But we also have to continue to develop and get all new people on board. We are constantly working on evaluating the business and refining the concept when required. It’s about working actively with staff, talking a lot about our values, supporting each other and avoiding isolating the classrooms. Here, every child is everyone’s responsibility.”

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You have chosen to use a lot of upholstered furniture, which many schools are hesitant to do. Why do you think that’s the case?

“For us, the choice is obvious. Upholstered furniture increases the feel-good factor, as simple as that. They dampen noise, are comfortable to sit in, look nice  – there are lots of good reasons. I think you can and should deal with problems rather than opting out of interior design that actually improves operations.”

Your upholstered furniture looks as new as it did from the start, what’s your trick?

“It’s not magic, it’s about making the children feel involved, taking responsibility and understanding why the physical environment is important. We make sure to include them, for example by cleaning up together and talking about why we take care of what we have. It is also important that adults are present as role models and show that they see the students and what is happening in the school. This allows us to get to grips with things as soon as they happen.”

You say that the physical environment here supports learning. It this something you can see in actual student performance?

“We measure well-being and peace of mind and get good results, so we know that our students and teachers feel good and that the physical environment is a strong contributing factor. However, it is difficult to measure exactly how the level of knowledge and learning is linked to the physical environment. Our flexible and activity based solutions allow us to customise teaching to different situations to support both children and adults. For me, it goes without saying that the physical environments have a positive impact on student performance.” 

The pupils: What’s your favourite place at school?

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Lilly, age 7

“The library is my favourite place! It’s cosy and you can choose between several different pieces of furniture or the soft rug.”

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Ivar, age 9

“I’m most comfortable in my classroom. I like to sit close to the window and my chair is really comfortable!”

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Ilse, age 11

“My favourite place is probably the soft armchairs that we have in our classrooms. I like sitting there because it’s comfortable and I can concentrate.”

Curious about what we can do with your learning environments?

Contact us today

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