Greening Schoolyards

Canadian researchers found that green school grounds enhanced learning, compared with conventional turf and asphalt school grounds; that the more varied green play spaces suited a wider array of students and promoted social inclusion, regardless of gender, race, class, or intellectual ability; and they were safer.

– Richard Louv, Last Child in the Woods, p. 220

Many teachers are faced with working in a concrete school and therefore face the dilemma of making nature play and outdoor education possible for their students. I have been in many conversations where teachers who are interested in taking their students outside say, “Where can I take them? There is no forest/creek/pond/beach/garden at or near my school.” Not all teachers interested in taking their students outside are gung-ho about struggling to fight an up-hill battle. I, on the other hand, love up-hill battles? No, maybe I’m just experienced with them …  I recognize that when something is easily accessible that it is more inviting to take on, but I think that we as educators all need to join the ranks on this one.

So, how is it possible to make a concrete school green?

1. Start the plea for a school garden. Then, make it work.

  • Preferably, an outdoor bed garden so that multiple children can access it at the same time. (I have tried gardening in a greenhouse with my class before and it was very difficult because of the limited space within the greenhouse).

2. If there are any areas on school property that are treed/bushed/wild … make it work.

  • You can thank my principal for the inspiration on this one. When she was at a concrete school she created a trail in a “wild” area on school grounds. Although it was only 100 feet or so long (and the area was only 10 feet wide), she made it work.
  • Make it into an Enchanted Edible Forest (wild bush/forest food garden).
  • Go exploring for insects, reptiles, flowers …
  • Use it for a sit spot locations (more on this later …)

3. If there are any trees on the property, make it work.

  • Use them as sit spot locations.

  • Do a year long tree study.
  • Climb trees.

4. Plant trees.

5. Make a plea for a natural playscape and make it happen.

  • The city of Campbell River is in the process of transforming one of the city parks to a natural playscape!!! (insert cheer, plus jumping, here).
  • Curious? Read this <—.
  • Want to know more about natural playscapes? Read how to create your own natural playscape here <—.

Catch and Release

6. Make an indoor nature table.

8. Keep your calm and cry a little… ok, a lot… but only in private.

I don’t think that these actions are quite the same as having a true natural play area, such as a forest. In fact, I view these as great things to have in addition to a natural play area. But, one has to to do what one has to do.

I truly believe in the importance of nature play. It is the basis of my primary program and it is something that I view as vitally important for an inspiring, fulfilling, and worthwhile education. Wherever I may be in the future, it is important to me that I live it. For, as Mahatma Gandhi says, it would be dishonest of me not to.


  • This is such an important article! So many environments have so little green space for the children. You have some great suggestions and they have all worked for me in various schools where I have taught. One was an inner city location (Industrial area!) and we planted a flower & veggie garden in the concrete planter around the edge of the play yard. The garden got invaded by rats! (it was very inner city!) But we found things to grow that the rats didn’t eat (mostly flowers) Also, one school had a single tree (ornamental flowering peach tree) on the edge of the play area and the children called it “Sister Tree” and made beautiful nature ornaments to hang on the branches. They also sang songs to her and loved hugging that tree! It was a place for sitting beneath, for honoring the seasons, and for pretend play galore! Thanks for reminding me of the importance of green areas and making the most of your resources!


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