Learning Landscapes


Accomplishments of Learning Landscapes

  • 96 completed Learning Landscapes
  • $49 million raised to date for construction
  • 46,500 students served daily
  • 500,000 city residents served
Fact Sheet Increasing Access to Play The Schoolyard Redevelopment Program New Construction in 2011


Wellness in the Garden Program Learning Landscapes Castro Elementary Anti-Grafitti Project

What is a Learning Landscape?

Learning Landscape schoolyard-design reflects the unique culture and history of the people, the school, and the neighborhood it serves while providing opportunities for physical activity, socialization & creative play. The distinctive elements of Learning Landscape schoolyards include:
  • Community gateways and gathering spaces
  • Public art works
  • Age-appropriate play equipment
  • Grass playing fields
  • Colorful structured & unstructured asphalt games
  • Custom shade structures
  • Vegetable gardens
  • Habitat areas/nature play
On Learning Landscape schoolyards, students interact with educational elements such as fractions, historical timelines, common words, and quotes to help students learn as they play.

What We Do

With a budget of approximately $450,000 per playground, Learning Landscapes leads UCD students, elementary schools, and community members in the redesign of schoolyards into fun, multi-use parks designed to reflect the culture of the surrounding community. The Learning Landscapes project helps reconnect communities with neighborhood schools. The graduate students gain meaningful, hands-on experience working with the community by creating master plans and designs for a Learning Landscapes schoolyard.

How We Do It

By listening and actively involving the school community throughout the planning, design, construction, and maintenance of the Learning Landscape schoolyard. Each school is asked to form a Learning Landscape team to help inform design and programming decisions as well as keep a watchful eye for vandalism and maintenance issues after construction is complete. The Learning Landscapes team recruits students, parents and surrounding community help to build, maintain and improve the Learning Landscape. Each new Learning Landscape has a volunteer build day where the school and community volunteers develop a sense of ownership and civic pride by creating outdoor artwork planting gardens, laying sod, or building play equipment. We document and distribute site-specific resources for educators and community members on the outdoor educational elements unique to each Learning Landscape schoolyard. Promoting the programmatic use of the Learning Landscape is critical for the long-term viability and sustainability of these projects.

Our Impact

  • Every elementary Denver Public School yard (96) has been transformed into a vibrant & healthy play space.
  • Learning Landscape schoolyards are neighborhood parks used by the community on weekends and afterschool.
  • Learning Landscape schoolyards challenge the existing concept of traditional schoolyards.
  • Studies show Learning Landscapes increase physical activity and socialization skills in children.

Design Approach

To ensure innovation and affordability, Learning Landscape schoolyards are collaboratively designed by graduate students at the University of Colorado, College of Architecture and Planning, the school district, local elementary schools and communities. Elementary school students participate in the design process by creating drawings that illustrate their vision for a new playground. We involve the community in all phases of development, building stewardship of the Learning Landscape. The many people participating in Learning Landscape projects sends the essential message to the children and families of each community: “We believe in you!”

Our History

The first Learning Landscape was built at Bromwell Elementary School in 1998 as the result of a six-year collaboration of parents, students, staff, faculty, neighbors, local businesses and University of Colorado Denver (UCD) landscape architecture graduate students. What began as a vast expanse of asphalt and pea gravel on the Bromwell playground was transformed into an active and aesthetically pleasing place for learning and physical activity. Bromwell’s schoolyard renovation project coincided with the end of mandatory busing at Denver Public Schools (DPS), which lead to a renewed interest in Denver neighborhood schools, allowing the Bromwell Learning Landscape project to evolve into a citywide urban initiative evoking social change and physical transformation of public grounds. UCD encourages faculty to connect the campus to the community, and Landscape Architecture Professor Lois Brink’s Learning Landscapes course proved to be a tremendous opportunity for civic engagement. Through Learning Landscapes, UCD graduate students are able to stretch the boundaries of landscape design, engage the community, and gain real-world design experience. In 1999 (UCD) College of Architecture and Planning entered into a formal agreement to plan, design, and help build Learning Landscapes at DPS elementary schools throughout the district. In 2008 Denver voters expressed satisfaction with the program by passing a multi-million dollar bond initiative to fund the redevelopment of every DPS elementary schoolyard into a learning landscape by 2013.

School in the Yard book

Our Schools