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Espaces pour grandir :  redécouvrir les cours d’écoles naturelles 

Il ne fait aucun doute que les enfants aiment l’extérieur et adorent établir une relation intime et personnelle avec le grand air.  Lorsque cette prédisposition est adéquatement encouragée, cet intérêt précoce peut se développer et devenir l’éthique environnementale de toute une vie avec son cortège de bienfaits pour le développement personnel de ces enfants.

Toutefois au contraire, lorsque ces enfants ne peuvent pas explorer de zones naturelles, leur curiosité se détériore rapidement et souvent même irréversiblement.  Garantir aux jeunes l’opportunité de venir en contact quotidiennement avec la nature est donc un facteur essentiel dans la formation adéquate de générations successives de citoyens ayant une conscience écologique.  Compte tenu que les jeunes passent une proportion importante de leurs années formatives dans des cours d’écoles, quel bon endroit pour y débuter cette essentielle formation environnementale.





What are some examples of features that could be incorporated?

Habitat restoration and naturalization projects

Butterfly meadows, ponds, insect gardens, and shrub hedges that provide food and shelter for small mammals and birds

Nurseries for native plants

Artistic creations such as sculpture gardens, giant chess boards, wall murals, and pavement paintings

Vegetable, berry, herb, perennial flower, and rock gardens

Roosting boxes, nesting boxes, and feeders for bats and birds

Informal spaces for quiet pursuits using rocks and logs for seating and trees for shade

Checkerboard gardens with alternating squares of patio stones and soil

Nature trails

Amphitheatres of simple naturalized berms can provide outdoor classrooms for music, dance, and theatre

The more diverse the approach is, the greater the potential that exists to integrate the schoolyard with all areas of the curriculum. Only your imagination limits the possibilities!



Room to Grow:
Rediscovering the Natural Schoolyard

Barb Harvey
Falls Brook Centre
February 2003

f there is one thing that I have learned in my world travels, it is that kids and dirt are a universally compatible combination.

Looking at orchids
(photo: Falls Brook Centre)

Whether you look to the majestic plains of East Africa, to small indigenous communities in Mexico or rural farms in New Brunswick, the same truth always holds: kids love getting up close and personal with the great outdoors. When properly encouraged, this healthy early interest can grow into a lifelong environmental ethic and can also lead to a host of other personal development benefits. However, if there are no accessible wild spaces for children to explore, this natural curiosity is quickly- and often irreversibly- extinguished. A critical factor, therefore, in successfully raising future generations of ecologically conscious citizens is to ensure that youth have adequate opportunities to interact with nature on a daily basis. What better place to start with this important task than in the schoolyard?

What exactly is schoolyard naturalization?

A schoolyard naturalization project can be as simple or as complex as you choose to make it- anything from growing climbing plants along dull chain link fences to establishing a native tree nursery. Essentially, the main focus of all schoolyard naturalization projects is to convert barren expanses of asphalt into stimulating natural spaces for learning and playing. Schoolyard “greening” is an ideal way to promote interdisciplinary, hands-on learning about the environment through projects that simultaneously benefit schools, communities, and local biodiversity levels.

School kids
(photo: Falls Brook Centre)

While educators have long recognized the value of modifying the design of indoor classrooms to better address various cognitive, physical, and social needs of learners, the layout of schoolyards is rarely questioned. This oversight occurs despite the fact that, using a very rough calculation of approximately 1.5 hours per day, students spend as many as 1 800 hours (or 257 school days) in their school grounds by the time they reach the end of grade 6! There is enormous potential to transform these heavily used outdoor spaces into exciting learning, playing, and socializing environments. Over the past decade, this challenge has been taken up by thousands of North American schools in the form of schoolyard naturalization projects. When the numerous benefits and the overwhelmingly positive results of such projects are considered, it is not difficult to understand why schoolyard naturalization is a trend that is increasing in popularity.

What is wrong with leaving our schoolyard the way it is?

Most school grounds have been designed with a focus on ease of maintenance and ease of student supervision, as well as to facilitate team sports. While these are valuable objectives, they are inadequate criteria when considered in isolation. The pursuit of these criteria generally results in uninspiring open spaces lacking in shade or shelter. Not only are these spaces lacking in terms of visual stimulation and creative possibilities, but they also can be especially problematic for introverted kids since they offer no respite from big groups, schoolyard bullies, and noise. An increasing body of evidence suggests that traditional schoolyard designs- or lack thereof- worsen discipline problems, promote aggressive behaviour, and leave a sizeable portion of the school environment miserable and inadequate.

How will this affect teachers’ workloads and is it expensive?

While a schoolyard naturalization project may not reduce teachers’ workloads, it definitely can change the nature of workloads. Such projects put the joy and excitement of learning back into daily routines, often reminding teachers of why they entered the profession in the first place. In addition, students, teachers, parents, and community members can all be involved in schoolyard greening- when spread between so many hands, the individual workload is surprisingly light.  Frequently, many required materials and in-kind services can be obtained through community donations and participation. A number of charitable organizations also exist to promote schoolyard greening and distribute grants to facilitate projects.

seeds of the future
(photo: Falls Brook Centre)

What are some of the benefits of schoolyard greening?

An amazing wealth of benefits- personal development, learning, health and safety, environmental, and economic- are generated through school ground naturalization projects. What follows is merely a brief overview of some of the most widely reported advantages of schoolyard greening.

Personal Development Benefits

Enriching students’ outdoor learning environments reduces anti-social behaviours. Accordingly, decreases in juvenile delinquency have been reported during periods of school and community gardening. Furthermore, teachers have observed that classroom social stresses lessen when young people are given the opportunity to engage in learning through improving their surroundings.

Learning Benefits

There is enormous potential to integrate the schoolyard with a wide variety of curriculum units. Hands-on activities in outdoor classrooms make learning more interesting and can enhance any number of lesson plans in a variety of subjects.

Health and Safety Benefits

While the health and safety benefits of schoolyard naturalization projects may not be immediately obvious, they are substantial and quantifiable. “Obstacles”, such as trees in planters, have been shown to reduce the number of “knock and bump” accidents in paved playgrounds by up to 80%. Shade from newly planted trees can offer protection from harmful UV radiation, while the trees themselves can help to filter dust and pollutants from vehicle exhaust. In addition, a green schoolyard can lead to less-quantifiable, long-term health benefits associated with physical activity outside.

Economic Benefits

Although schoolground naturalization projects are generally assumed to be expensive undertakings, they can actually produce a number of economic benefits. Low maintenance gardens and ground cover can replace energy-intensive, high-maintenance lawns that require annual fertilizing, re-seeding, and aerating. Organic waste can be composted and used to rehabilitate depleted soils, thus diverting it from the landfill and avoiding waste and tipping fees. Furthermore, vandalism to school property can be reduced by fostering a sense of ownership through a schoolyard greening project.

Environmental Benefits

Last but not least, the environmental benefits of school ground naturalization projects cannot be overlooked. Naturalized school grounds can contribute valuable green space to communities and increase local biodiversity levels. Moreover, such projects are designed to bring nature back into our daily lives and are crucial for the long-term conservation, protection, and restoration of wild places. Young people cannot be expected to gain a true appreciation for the natural world from printed and electronic materials alone- rather, they must be given chances to experience nature directly and the schoolyard offers the perfect venue for the provision of these opportunities.

Wetland Discovery
(photo: Falls Brook Centre)

Sounds great! So, what do I do next?

For more information, contact the
education staff at Falls Brook Centre -
we would love to help!
Phone: (506) 375-4310