School Grounds TRAnSfoRmAtiOn  
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Although many people of all ages use the schoolyard as a community amenity, it is essentially a space designed specifically for children.

By the end of grade six children will have spent about 1,800 hours, or 257 entire school days in the schoolyard. The grounds of middle and high schools virtually ignore students' social interests and are largely designed for active sports, most of which can only be pursued during the warmer months.

It is important to listen carefully to what children have to say about a space where they are required to spend so much of their time.

Involving children right from the beginning

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Photo: Ruth Doucette

The most imaginative ideas for transforming grounds often come from the "clients" themselves. It is essential to consult with young people in the initial evaluation of the grounds to start generating the flow of creative thought and a sense of ownership.

Click to enlarge

Photo: Ruth Doucette
The typical schoolyard is designed for ease of maintenance and surveillance. The results of hundreds of Canadian Biodiversity Institute surveys with thousands of students in urban, suburban and rural communities show that the typical schoolyard does not meet the needs of young people. Your brainstorming sessions will show you how your schoolyard measures up.
Click to enlarge

Photo: Ruth Doucette

In theory, adults have little trouble recognizing the value of giving children and youth the right to actively participate in improving their environments. However, in practice, they have difficulty relinquishing control, acting as facilitators, and allowing projects to be driven by young people because they still believe that adults know best what children need.

We need to start listening to children. Their needs and preferences can only be determined by consulting with them. This is why children must be involved right from the start in any school grounds improvement project.


  • A big DO NOT is to hand children a set of questions and have them write down their answers.
  • Another DO NOT is to dismiss any ideas no matter how impracticable without giving an explanation. For example, if children propose roller blade, skate board and cycling areas or an Olympic-sized swimming pool, thank them for their suggestions and then explain why they would not be allowed for safety reasons.
  • AVOID asking children what they would like to have in the schoolyard or you will end up with something resembling a Christmas wish list. Get children to focus on what they would like to DO outside rather than what they would like to HAVE.


Start by asking the class to talk about their present play activities throughout the year and record their remarks on a flip chart.

Children will usually make general comments about the state of play equipment, the shortage of play opportunities, unequal allocation of play equipment between grades, out of bounds areas, uneven paving, dull colours, ugly fences, poor drainage and noise as well as the lack of seating, shade, windbreaks and natural features.

No matter how negative they sound, all such comments should be expanded upon and further explored and recorded because identifying the problems leads to finding solutions.

Ask the children to talk about what they like and dislike about their grounds, places where bullying takes place, how they feel about the buildings, fences, paving, grassed areas, trees, gardens, views, play structures, smells, colours, noise and sounds, whether there is enough protection from the wind and sun, what they would like to be able to DO outside both in and out of class time and what changes they would like to see.

Curriculum connections

The student brainstorming sessions can be linked to the curriculum in many ways. For example: writing, creative thinking, listening skills, communicating, researching, respecting others' opinions and needs, art (painting and drawing visions of the grounds, model-making), mapping and measuring.

Voting on which project first

When all the responses have been compiled, schools can create a demand chart for every class which lists everyone's ideas for them to vote on. Each student has five votes and checks the projects most appealing to them. This exercise helps to prioritize the projects listed as fairly as possible.

Spreading the word

Encourage the children to talk about the brainstorming sessions and their ideas for greening the grounds with their families. Ask them to let their families know that the teachers and parents are going to be surveyed as well. You can also notify parents through the school newsletter.


Please contribute to school grounds research!

The results of your student surveys can be used for the Canadian Biodiversity Institute's research on children's feelings and attitudes towards their school grounds. The research will be used to further promote the need for improving the social and educational quality and the health of school grounds.

Please keep the comments from each class separate and clearly write the grade level at the top of each page.

It would also be very helpful to us if your school could categorize the comments from each class as follows:

  • Present Play Activities
  • General Comments
  • Natural Spaces Wish List
  • Play Equipment and Sports Wish List

If you would like your student survey results to form part of this research, please send a diskette or a hard copy to:

Canadian Biodiversity Institute
Suite 322, 99 Fifth Avenue
Ottawa, Ontario
K1S 5P5

or you can e-mail your survey results to us at:

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