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Children's comments

Children's comments about their schoolyard are remarkably similar whether they are in urban, suburban or rural settings simply because the design of school grounds is generally the same everywhere.

It is vital to discover how children feel about their school grounds before you ask them to suggest any changes. Some of the problems identified by children can lead to ideas for making things better.

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Categorizing children's comments

Children's comments can usually be placed in one of the categories listed.

CBI led brainstorming sessions with all Grade 1-6 children at an inner-city school in Ottawa and all Grade 1-8 children at a rural school in eastern Ontario.

The categories listed below were determined by the various similar aspects of the two schoolyards and the frequency with which they were mentioned and discussed by every class in both schools.

During your class brainstorming sessions, try to initiate class discussion on the different categories to find out how the children feel about their school grounds.


Children often say that there is nothing interesting for them to do outside and the word "boring" is frequently used to describe the yard. The issue of boredom arises in every class during brainstorming sessions.

Boredom has been recognized by both children and adults as one of the main causes of all kinds of inappropriate behaviour.

"Boredom is the result of an absence of playing and learning opportunities. It extracts a high cost in missed learning opportunities - benefits lost forever, if not captured in early childhood. Boredom is rarely considered a social disease yet some of its crippling symptoms are issues of national concern. Boredom negates motivation and presents a barrier to individual development, self-sufficiency and social integration. Bland hard surfaces breed animosity. They injure body and spirit." 
Robin Moore, Before and After Asphalt, 1989

Sample questions:

  • "What do you do when you go outside to play now?"
  • "What do you do at other times of the year?"



"There is nothing to do. It is boring outside."

"There is not enough to do outside. It's so boring out there."

Sample follow-up question:

  • "What would you like to be able to do outside?"
  • "How can we make the yard more interesting?"


The vast majority of children surveyed do not like the noise in the yard. They often say that all they can hear is children yelling, screaming, crying and fighting and the noise of traffic. Typically, they ask for quiet, tree-shaded places with the peaceful sounds of nature.

Sample questions:

  • "What noises do you hear in the yard?"
  • "What sounds do you hear?"



"We cannot read or think or do anything quiet because it's too noisy."

"It is too noisy outside. No one likes it. Everyone complains about it."

"We cannot get away from all the noise."

"It's too noisy to think. We need quiet places for talking, reading and doinghomework."

"All the noise makes my head hurt."

"There are no quiet places - it is too loud outside and  there is nowhere to get away from the noise."

"We would like to hear birds singing and other natural sounds."

"All we can hear outside now are train whistles, trucks, cars, planes and

machines and the noise of children yelling and screaming."

"We need quiet places away from all the noise."

Sample follow-up questions:

  • "What can be done about the noise?"
  • "What sounds would you like to hear?"


The urban schoolyard had no play equipment and the painted games were worn out. The children appreciated the simple play items that teachers had started to bring out at break times. Children never fail to notice and resent the inequitable distribution of play equipment and often comment about inadequate, poorly-maintained, unsafe and inappropriate equipment.

Sample questions:

  • "What play activities do you have?"
  • "What do you think of them?"



"Last month they brought stuff out for us to play with for the first time. Like balls, skipping ropes and hula hoops. Kids behave better in the yard now that we have something to do."

"We have nothing to sit on but the ground, no structures, nothing to climb, and no shade."

"The little kids have stuff in the other yard, but we have nothing but broken basketball poles with no hoops."

"We need more activities, more to do."

"It's better out there in the Winter because at least we have snow to play with then."

"We liked the old structure but they came and took it away. They said it wasn't safe, but it was better and safer. The new one is slippery because it's made of metal and the metal gets too hot in the Summer."

"The bars which we used a lot were taken out. The swings are too low for us and the basketball hoops are too high for little kids."

"We don't use the painted hopscotch and four square anymore because we are too old for them. Besides, the paint has all  worn away."

"We have nothing for grades 5-8. We are not interested in playing on structures and there is nothing else for us to do out there. We just walk around and talk."

Sample follow-up questions:

  • "What would you like to be able to do outside?" "What can we do to improve the existing play equipment?"


Children read lack of care and maintenance of the grounds as a reflection of their own lack of value to the school. Children who have little in the way of play opportunities in the yard suggest that what they do have could be better maintained.

Sample question:

  • "Are there any problems with your play equipment or play spaces?"



"The basketball hoops are broken off and we have only the two poles left."

"They won't replace the hoops because the big kids break them."

"The neighbours complain about the noise the big kids make when they play basketball late at night so they won't buy new hoops for us anyway."

"The painted lines on the paving are all worn out and need repainting. We can hardly see them."

"The broken basketball poles are used for volley ball nets but they are too far apart."

"No one uses the baseball diamond because of the gravel -  the stones are sharp and hurt when you fall down."

"The soccer goals are broken and there are holes in the soccer field. We trip when playing. We don't have much so they could look after it better."

"There are sharp bits sticking out of the fences and kids hurt themselves on them when playing. Our balls go through the holes under the fences."

"The paint on the structure and the paving games is all worn away."

"There is a drain in the middle of the soccer field. In the Winter the drain freezes so in the Spring we get a small lake there which takes ages to dry. We get ducks swimming in the yard."

Sample follow-up question:

  • "What can we do to solve these problems?"


The look of individual elements on the school grounds is as important to children as the overall appearance. Children with barren schoolyards are often surprised to learn that some schools have yards with trees, flowers and wildlife habitat. Their reactions range from disbelief to the assumption that the school can afford more because the parents are wealthier.

Sample question:

  • "What do you think of the look of the yard?"



"The colours are all dull. The whole yard is dull and no one likes it."

"It is all black and grey and ugly out there. It's all dead. There is nothing living in the yard. We only get dogs and seagulls because there is no habitat and no green stuff for nice animals."

"We should make the yard colourful, like our classrooms."

"If we make it more colourful it will be nicer and more comfortable for us. Murals would make it more attractive. It looks dead now."

"The yard is all paving and the building is dull. Our yard is ugly and grey and it is not


  "It is very cold and windy out there in the Winter and it is way too hot in the Summer because there is no shade."

"It's not cheerful and colourful outside. It is all dull and boring and there are no flowers in the yard. The kindergartens should have flowers."

"It's all plain outside. We like the snow hills, but the ground is all flat and boring when they melt."

"We need to improve the view of the yard. It is so ugly. We need to plant some trees to make the yard look better."

"The yard is ugly. The grass is dead. It is muddy and wet in the Spring and then the grass turns yellowish-brown and smells bad."

"We need some cool shady places so we can get out of the blistering heat. It gets really hot out there.

"There is no shelter from the cold wind in Winter."

Sample follow-up question:

  • "What can we do to make the yard more colourful, comfortable and attractive?"


Children dislike the prison-like appearance of chain-linked fencing and have many good ideas for their improvement.

Sample question:

  • "What do you think of the fences around the yard?"



"The fences are horrible. They are all grey, rusted, crooked, ugly, cage-like and broken."

"The fences are O-FENCE-IVE!"

"The fences make us feel like we are in prison."

"We should grow vines all over them to hide the fences because they are so ugly."

"The metal fences are dull and ugly. They make you feel down."

"The kindergarten children should not have to be penned up in something that looks like a cage. They don't like it."

"The fences are ugly and they make the yard look like a jail."

"It would be more better for us to have colourful fences to make the yard look better."

Sample follow-up question:

  • "What can we do to improve the fences?"


Children always ask for more shade and can identify exactly where shade can be found in the yard and how many children it can accommodate at a time.

Sample questions:

  • "Where can you find shade in the yard?"
  • "How much shade is there?"
  • "Are any shady places off-limits?"
  • "It is important for you to have shade in the yard?"



"We need shade in the yard."

"There is hardly any shade out there now, only a narrow strip by the building."

"There is a little bit of shade by the doorway. There's enough for about four of us, but we're not allowed to stand there."

"Sometimes in the Summer when the sun is really hot we can get burned so they keep us indoors at lunchtime."

"It gets very hot outside in Summer. We all want more shade."

"We need shade trees and shelters."

"We have no shade. There is a bit by the dumpster and behind the portables and some under the three trees in our side of the yard but it is all off-limits."

"We bake outside. We need shade trees to make it cool and shady. But trees

take a long time to grow so we need to make some sun shelters like gazebos

and canopies while they're growing."

"We have one small crabapple tree with enough shade for about six children. There are wasps around it and kids can get stung when they go to the tree for shade."

"We need more shade everywhere including on the paving."

Sample follow-up question:

  • "What can we do to create shade in the yard?"


Children typically ask for natural areas with a variety of plant and animal life and plenty of trees for shade. Children surveyed have often said they would like to keep animals at school as well as to attract them through creating habitat. One British child remarked that, "It would be good to keep animals at school because if you had animals you'd have to have a nice environment which would be more better for us as well. But you couldn't keep animals in a place like this."

Sample question:

  • "Do you see any living things in the yard?"



"We have no 'nice' animals in the yard. There are only the seagulls, pigeons, sparrows, crows and wasps that come to feed on the garbage."

"We have no plants in the yard. No grass. No trees. No  flowers. There is nothing outside for "nice" animals. And it's not nice for us either!"

"We need green habitat for wildlife - and for kids too!"

"Once I saw a dove out there."

"We need more nature in the yard - more nature would make the school look better and it would make it better for us as well."

"We need more nature out there to make it smell better."

"We need habitat to attract wildlife. There is nothing out there for wildlife now."

"We want to have 'un-garbage'. 'Un-garbage' is natural things."

Sample follow-up questions:

  • "Would you like to share your school grounds with other living things?"
  • "Would you like to help plan, plant and care for wildlife habitat?"


Children want comfortable, quiet, shady places to sit in. They would like to have a variety of logs, stumps, rocks and benches arranged in circles, semi-circles, hexagons, octagons, rectangles and horseshoe shapes according to what they want to do when sitting with friends. It is of particular importance to them to have natural, shady places to sit in.

Sample questions:

  • "Where do you sit in the yard?"
  • "What do you sit on?"



"We only have the ground to sit on."

"There is nowhere nice to sit."

"We need nice, quiet, shaded places to sit away from all the noise and running about."

"We would like to sit sometimes, but there is nowhere."

"We need more seating. There is only enough seating for about 16 people and the benches are not in the shade."

"There is nothing nice to sit on and no nice places to sit in. We need seating in quiet, shady places."

"We need nice places to sit like those by the trees. There is a big rock to sit on and everyone likes sitting on it but it's out of bounds."

Sample follow-up questions:

  • "What kinds of things would you like to sit on?"
  • "What kinds of places would you like to sit in?"
  • "What would you like to be able to do when sitting alone or with friends?"
  • "What shaped seating arrangements would best suit what you want to do when sitting with friends?"


Children everywhere dislike asphalt, particularly when there is nothing but asphalt. Small children are often intimidated by large open areas of paving.

Sample question:

  • "Do you like the paving in the yard?"



"The yard is unsafe because it is all paving and we get hurt when we fall down."

"There is no grass or soil, only paving. We would like to have trees and stuff, but nothing grows in paving."

"There is nowhere to hide to play hide and seek because there is nothing out there but plain, flat paving. It looks like a parking lot!"

"We would like to have butterflies, birds and squirrels but they don't come here because there is no habitat for them. It's not good habitat for us either."

"The paving is all dull and ugly and grey and uneven and cracked."

"The paving is so ugly to look at every day!"

"We have two paved baseball courts but people prefer the one with grass and fight over it."

"Lots of kids fall down on the paving and it hurts."

"We don't like asphalt. It hurts us and it's very ugly. Paving means pain!"

Sample follow-up questions:

  • "What can we do about the paving?"
  • "Would you like to remove some of it?"


Children are often upset by acts of vandalism and feel that damage and littering show a lack of care for them. Litter, garbage, vandalism, graffiti and 'dog poo' are recognized by children as signs of neglect.

Children often comment on the garbage and animal droppings in the yard. They seem to understand that the place itself causes the behavioural problems and that the problems can be solved by improving the environment. Research shows that children read the lack of care and maintenance of the grounds as a reflection of their own lack of value to the school.

Sample questions:

  • "Is there any garbage in the yard?"
  • "How does the garbage make you feel?"



"Seagulls come for the garbage. The yard smells of seagull and dog poo and the garbage that people throw on the ground. We can't sit or roll around on the ground because we don't want to get it on our clothes. Sometimes people get it on their shoes and then it gets tracked into the school and it makes it smell bad."

"People throw down garbage because they don't care about the yard. Why should they care when it's so ugly?"

We find broken glass in the yard from beer bottles. They don't care if we get cut by the glass."

"We don't like all the garbage in the yard or the seagulls, hornets and wasps that come to eat it."

"People drop garbage so it's a people problem - but people don't care about the yard. Maybe if we had a nicer yard people would care about it."

"The seagulls' droppings are a problem and there are snack remains, wrappers and half-eaten fruit all over the yard. It looks really bad and it smells really bad."

"When I think about the yard, the first thing I think of is all the garbage."

Sample follow-up questions:

  • "What can we do about the garbage?"


Many older children are concerned about the lack of equipment, shade and quieter spaces for small children where they can avoid being run over by larger, more-active children.

Sample question:

  • "What do you think of the little kids' spaces?"



"The little kids have nothing to play with except the equipment brought out for them."

"The younger kids need to have things to play with."

"The little kids need to have their own quiet space because they get knocked

down by big kids running around. They get hurt on the paving when they fall down."

"We need to plant trees or build shelters in the kindergarten yard because they have no shade."

"The kindergartens look like they're in a cage. They should have a nicer space. They  should be able to come out into our yard sometimes and we should be able to go in and sit and read to them and talk to them. We hated being caged up like that when we were kindergartens."

"We used to play with the primary kids with medical problems but we are in the juniors now. They divided the yard and we're not allowed to step over the line. We do it anyway because we want to protect them from the bullies. And then we get into trouble."

"The basketball hoops are too high for the little kids. They would like to play too, so they should have some lower ones."

Sample follow-up question:

  • "How can we make the little kids' space better?"


Children often make comments that clearly show a lack of well-being. Children are very critical of adults' lack of care for the quality of their school environments and for the natural world. They often say that adults would not tolerate the conditions in which they place their children and are resentful of this double standard.

Sample question:

  • "What are your feelings about the yard?"



"The yard is all brick, concrete, metal and plain, flat paving. It is not colourful or cheerful."

"We have nothing but a brick wall to look at from our classroom. It's depressing. It would look so much nicer if we could paint a picture on it or grow vines all over it."

"There is nothing out there in the yard to enjoy and there is nothing to do. "

"Kids should have better places to play in.

They wouldn't like it if they had to spend time out there like us."

"Why don't we have quiet places where we can get away from all the noise and rushing about? They don't think about kids who just want to sit and do quiet stuff like read, draw, tell stories, play board games and talk with friends."

"The shady trees along the edge of the yard and the benches by the trees on pathway are out of bounds. We like it there because it is cool and shady and it is the nicest part of the yard. Why can't we ever go to the nice places?"

"There are so many puddles in our yard that we have ducks coming to swim in them."

"The yard has just been divided between the primaries and juniors and now there is more fighting because the little kids have more stuff to play with. It isn't fair!"

"All we can see from our portable is a metal fence and a parking lot and the road. It's so ugly to look at every day. It makes us feel bad."

Sample follow-up questions:

  • "How can the yard be made into a better place for children?"

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