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Sources of funding

There are all kinds of sources of materials, services, expertise, skills, resources and funding that can be found in the community. The cost of purchasing new plant and construction supplies can be reduced by finding out what discarded or unwanted materials are available in the community.

Outdoor classroom projects can be created inexpensively by scrounging and salvaging materials. Using discarded or unwanted materials helps keep them out of the waste stream and teaches children that it is not always necessary to purchase new items.

Some examples:

Trees, shrubs and other plants

Plants can be saved from development sites. There may be a cost involved if contractors assist with transporting or transplanting plants. Plants can also be obtained through, for example, local municipal parks and public works departments, provincial ministries and federal departments of natural resources, local nurseries, Conservation Authorities and local stewardship councils.

When rescuing wildflowers and small shrubs, focus on preserving the integrity of as much soil as possible around the plant to protect the roots. Note the exposure and growing conditions and replicate them as closely as you can to reduce transplanting shock.

Except in the case of transplanting trees, cut straight down into the soil with a spade making the cut at least 1 foot square and 1 foot deep. This will help to protect roots and save seeds that are in the soil. When moving a large area of plants, lay out a grid of squares and number each square. The squares can then be laid out in the same order in a new location to duplicate as far as possible their original growing conditions and relationship to one another.

You can also grow plants from seeds gathered locally. Learn about how to gather seeds, and ask gardeners, farmers and people in the community for cuttings, seeds, leftover annuals and divisions of perennials. Plan to start growing bedding plants indoors for a Spring sale to raise funds for the purchase of, for example, native species. As your gardens grow, plan a plant swap event to increase your plant diversity and give your project greater visibility in the community. Local super-markets will often support their community school by making plant donations.


Take the class on a seed-gathering expedition in the Autumn with a local naturalist or botanist. It is essential to first find out when and how to harvest seeds. Some nurseries that specialize in producing seeds from native plants may also be willing to help.

Sod removal

Avoid back-breaking digging and the need for roto-tilling! Place corrugated cardboard or two layers of whole newspapers on the sod and cover them with soil and mulch. The cardboard or paper will kill the grass and decompose in about two years. You can plant through small holes cut into the cardboard or paper. This method makes fundraising for a roto-tiller unnecessary, uses no plug-in energy, allows students to do the entire job themselves, recycles waste paper products, and does not upset the ecology of the soil by churning up aerobic and anaerobic soil bacteria.


Borrow tools needed for short-term projects and ask local stores to donate gardening tools.


Local service clubs, public utilities and contractors can be asked to help with excavation work if the school board lacks the equipment. When you do the Skills Identification survey, you may discover that you have construction workers in your own school community.

Pathways between plantings

Wood chips can often be obtained from landscaping and tree service companies or municipalities. Building suppliers may donate patio stones, bricks and tiles. Check the local weekly "penny saver" for second-hand materials. You can also post signs on supermarket signboards and send requests for unwanted materials home with the children.

Planter retaining walls

Rocks may be acquired from local quarries and construction and demolition sites. Municipal public works departments can connect you with their road construction contractors who may allow you to rescue rocks unearthed during excavation works. It is also worth asking contractors about leftover construction lumber.

Used tires

Large used tractor, snow plough and loader tires make good planters and seating for children at no cost. Children love them! They can be painted with colourful patterns using a good exterior latex primer and topcoat although leaving them “as is” cuts down on maintaining the paint. They should be very firmly packed with soil whether you plan to use them as planters or seating.

School boards often object to tires. The reasons given are `the metal bands embedded in the rubber is a safety consideration’; `disintegrating tires are a health hazard’ and `children can become trapped inside them’. The metal bands are only a problem with unfilled, smaller or thinner tires that are buried to a depth of half their height in the soil. Children crawl through these vertically-placed tires which gives rise to entrapment concerns. Children also climb and bounce on them and there is a concern that the regular flexing of the tires will cause the metal bands to gradually emerge from the rubber. Where larger, thicker tires are located flat on the ground and filled with soil or sand, no flexing can occur and children cannot crawl through them. The metal bands in the casing of thick tires with heavy tread are embedded to a depth of 4-8 inches. Regarding disintegration, the material the tire is made of is inert and used tires dumped into the environment last for many years without showing signs of decay. Tires wear down and release toxic substances such as heavy metals into the atmosphere while vehicles are being driven; tires lying flat on the ground and packed with soil are not going anywhere. Other materials used for play equipment deteriorate faster and require more maintenance: wood rots and splinters, plastic becomes brittle and cracks, and metal rusts.

It would appear that the real reason for objections to tires involves the cost to school boards of removing them from schoolyards and shipping them to a recycling depot at some future date. Encourage your school board to be more creative! Ask them to allow you to put money into an account created specially to pay for their removal from your school grounds. Check with your local tire centre to find out the charge per tire.

Try to access loader tires in good condition with a diameter of about 4-5 feet. Tires of this size weigh approximately 1,500 to 2,000 lbs each. They can be fairly easily obtained from tire repair centres who will deliver them to the school yard on a truck with a crane. You save them the cost of disposing of the tires and you get free seating and planters. Make sure you know exactly where you want them because their weight makes them almost impossible to move. Some tires are 14 feet in diameter and weigh 6,000 lbs!

The advantages of using tires for school grounds furniture are: they do not have edges or corners where children can hurt themselves; unlike wood, they do not splinter, rot, sprout fungi or need to be treated with preservatives; their one-piece construction means that they do not need to be maintained as regularly as play structures and benches with bolted parts; they do not have to be anchored to the ground due to their weight; they save trees cut for wooden structures; and they show children how they can use discarded items creatively to help conserve resources . They also last a long time. A play structure built of several tires bolted together in a school in southern Ontario outlived two multi-level play structures.

Toilets, sinks and bathtubs

These make great planters! They are free and have good drainage. They show children how unwanted items can be reused. The ceramic surfaces can be covered with a mixture of concrete, plant fibre and stain to create a more-natural, stone-like appearance.


Wood leftovers from do-it-yourself projects can be rescued from basements, sheds and cottages and by contacting carpenters, builders and local lumber yards. By approaching local government, you may be able to access new wood off-cuts from construction sites which is often stored separately in municipal landfills. Abandon wooden skids are good for building composters and planters.

Compost bins

Save waste going to the landfill and save money by making your own fertilizer at school with yard and lunchtime organic waste. Three-bay composters can be made of new wood off-cuts from construction sites or wooden skids. Plastic olive barrels and other similar containers can also be used for composting. Drill holes in the bottom of plastic containers and all over the sides to permit proper aeration otherwise your compost will be too wet and smell bad.


At the end of the day, companies that pour concrete foundations for buildings have leftover mixed concrete which is regularly discarded. This waste concrete could be used for planter edges, steps, stepping stones and setting upright posts in the ground or for shapes such as giant toadstools for children to sit on. When accessing mixed concrete in this way, you would have to have the site or mould prepared ahead of time for pouring the concrete into and someone standing by to direct the driver.

Bat boxes, bird feeders and nesting boxes

Contact local conservation and nature groups for guidelines on how to build nesting and roosting boxes for different species. Elementary schools can ask high school design and technology teachers and students for help in building them. Information can be found on the internet and from stewardship councils, Ministry of Natural

Resources Community Wildlife Involvement Programme manuals, and Bat Conservation International.

Painted mazes and other pavement markings

For mazes and other painted designs on asphalt play spaces, ask parents to send in their unwanted leftover household paint, ask local paint stores for miss-mixes and advertise in community newspapers. A latex primer and top coat should be used. Go to Types of Projects for instructions.

Straw bale maze

Ask a local farmer to donate straw bales to make a maze for play in Winter. When the bales fall apart in the Spring, the straw can be used to mulch around plants to help keep down invasive weeds and prevent the soil from drying out. Lay down the maze design in the Autumn and just before freeze-up soak the bales with water from a garden hose to make them freeze hard. Try asking the local fire department to soak the bales for you.

Straw bales can also be made into planters by scooping out some of the straw, adding soil, and planting directly into the top of bales.


Ceramists, painters and sculptors in the community are often willing to donate time to their local school. Some provinces have "artist in residence" programmes which could be accessed for art in the school grounds projects.


Contact local arts and crafts groups, community centres, art schools, etc. and enquire about procuring kiln time and help with making ceramic murals, tiles, mosaics and plant identification tags.

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