St. Edward’s Outdoor Revitalization Project: The Space

I decided I would like to re-design the schools Kindergarten outdoor play yard.  From the pictures I’ve posted, it is clearly visible that this space is basic.  The space is made up of paved asphalt with yellow painted hop scotch, squares, and other images surrounded by a black chain-linked fence.

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From the pictures, you are able to see this is an outdoor space, however, there is no access to plants and trees in the yard.  In a way you can say the children are trapped outdoors from the real outdoors.  The outdoors heighten children’s senses, therefore it is important to include things in an environment children can investigate, and explore.  We must keep in mind that environments are a provocation, therefore the environment must have different elements to create new learning experiences where children can engage with themselves and nature.

I find this play yard is not very welcoming.  The asphalt is a hazard, as children can trip and injure themselves by scarping their skin if they do fall on it.  The asphalt surface may be flat, making it easy for children to manoeuvre around, however, flat surfaces do not allow children to enhance their motor skills and take risk .

The chain link fence is used for supervision and safety reasons, however, aesthetics of the environment do influence how a space makes us feel.   A chain link fence can be seen as a symbol representing lack of control.

It’s important for spaces to be ascetically pleasing as design has an impact on all people.

One of the positives about this play yard is that it’s wheel chair accessible.  This reminded me of the importance of designing spaces that are inclusive for everyone to use.  For my redesign I will incorporate ideas from universally accessible outdoor spaces.

For the re-design of the space I plan to enhance the space by:

  • Creating an aesthetically pleasing environment by incorporating the use of natural resources in the design such as wood and rocks (Get rid of the chain link fence and asphalt)
  • Using different terrain surfaces such as grass, mulch, sand and astroturf
  • Create areas where children can challenge themselves with play structures that incorporate gross-motor skills
  • Create an overall open-ended space that inspires and allows children to experience it in any way

Design Ideas

My goal is to make this play yard more inviting for children to play in.  This space is a fairly small area to run around in when busy with children.  In order to allow the children to experience more risks and challenges involving the use of their gross motor skills, I would like to add play structures that incorporate natural materials such as tree logs and stumps for climbing and jumping off.

In the design I would like to add a hallow log, for children to climb on and climb under.  The idea behind the log being hallow is it can be used as a small private space for children.  Children react well to small spaces as it allows them to initiate there own space where they can privately think and reflect.  Through out my design I would like to incorporate the following learning environments caves, campfires, and watering holes (International Society for Technology in Education, 2013).  The log I plan to place in the re-design represents the cave, which is a space that encourages private individual time for children (International Society for Technology in Education, 2013).

I would like to integrate two areas in my re-design that invite the children to take challenges and risks.  A slide with tree stumps used as stairs to climb up welcome the children to use physical skills such as balance, agility and coordination, and thinking skills such as problem solving.  The stumps will all be different heights and levels leading up to the slide.  I was inspired by Earthscape Play playground designs to use this type of slide design.  I found this slide beneficial for children’s development as it’s a challenge for children to climb which can encourage mastery of new skills.  Below is a slide used in one of Earthscape Play‘s school yard revitalizations where I got the inspiration to include it in my re-design.

Earth Scape Play 1

The last climbing structure I would like to add is a  suspended rope web to climb.  The web will provide children the opportunity to use coordination and balance skills as they try climb across the web.  This web could also be used as an unofficial sitting area for children, as it can promote the sharing of ideas through conversation with its circle shape.  The web incorporates the idea of watering holes, “The watering hole is an informal space where peers can share information and discoveries, acting as both learner and teacher simultaneously. This shared space can serve as an incubator for ideas and can promote a sense of shared culture” (International Society for Technology in Education, 2013).  This space can spontaneously lead to many individual and group learning experiences.  Such a great space to hang out!

climbing web

Other things I plan to use to integrate the concept of watering holes are a music wall, sand box, and tepee.  The music wall and tepee will be accessible for all children of all exceptionalities.

The music wall will be a great way to include music play and experimentation in an outdoor space.  A music wall mainly includes items such as pots and pans, metal or plastic pipes, chimes, and symbols.  Music walls allow children to explore music and sound through simply touching objects or  using a percussion mallet to create sound.  The music wall will heighten children auditory senses.  The great part about the music wall is several children may use it at once, which allows for children to have the opportunity to cooperate and even work with one another by sharing discoveries and creating musical beats.

A sand box will be great to incorporate sensory exploration.  Sand is an open ended medium.  Sand allows for children to explore properties through feel and touch. Meanwhile sand can also be used for free creative exploration.  Playing with sand can be very relaxing, as well as empowering, since sand can be manipulated in any way.  Sand promotes cognitive, physical, and social development, and integrates math, science, and art as well.  The sand box will be large enough to have several children playing in it at a time, which will encourage social interaction between children.  The sand box will also be covered with a canopy, to provide shade and also create the warm feeling of a small secluded space.

I decided to incorporate a large wooden tepee frame into the design to provide a space that adds the feeling of being being in a secluded space, but it still allows for visibility.  This tepee frame will have an entry way accessible for children in wheel chairs and walkers.  Under the tepee frame wooden discs will be available for children to use for building or loose parts play.  The tepee may also promote social interaction with one another.  It is set up as a circle where children can easily sit face to face to one another.   Not only can the area be used for building, but it can simply be used as a space for small group learning (known as a campfire) or a place where children just want to be together (known as a watering hole).  Simple gathering spaces incorporate the concepts of camp fires and watering holes, promoting the importance of interaction and sharing  learning with peers and experts.  Here is an example of a tepee used in Earthscape Play‘s play yard design, which I plan integrate into the re-design.


I would like to incorporate an area with seating and a chalkboard to bring parts of the classroom outside.  This area may be used as a formal learning space for teachers to use as well as informal space for children to engage, socialize, communicate, create, and collaborate with each other.  The chalk can also be an area that incorporates artistic expression through drawing or even telling creative stories.  This area will have a seating arrangement that is placed in a way so children in wheel chairs my also access the area.  This area also incorporates the concept of campfires and watering holes.  A great article by the International Society for Technology in Education  explains the concepts of campfires, caves and watering holes and the importance of incorporateing them into children’s learning spaces.  Australia’s Campfires, Caves, and Watering Holes expresses the importance of building spaces, which benefit children’s development in all learning domains.  Children are being greatly influenced by the digital era where there lacks spaces for children to self reflect, explore, socialize, share, and collaborate.  Integrating campfires, caves and watering holes, give children the opportunity to connect with themselves and help develop their self identity.  A photo below is an example of what I would like to be installed as the chalkboard and seating area.

Chalkboard area


Enhancing the aesthetics and improving function.

To enhance the aesthetics of the environment, one of the simple solutions I think will make a difference is replacing the chain link fence with a wooden one.  Adding a wooden fence would make the space feel more inviting and less enclosed from the outside environment.  I always look at how everyday materials can be re-used and up cycled.  I discovered from Pinterest a great idea of using wooden pallets to create a fence.

pallet fence

By using wooden pallets money can be saved, and it creates less of a foot print on our environment as we are re-using good quality wood, that would’ve most likely  been tossed away.  I love how in the picture above they’ve placed  small flower pots on the fence.  A great way to include an area where children can grow plants.  Space was a small struggle in my re-design and I wanted to incorporate many ideas  that brought the indoor learning environment outside, but fitting in an area to grow plants was difficult.  I had to keep in mind the space can’t have too much space being taken up by the outdoor classroom/playground areas, as children need space to run around.  Therefore this idea of hanging planters on the fence is great to save on space while still including an area to grow plants.  Growing plants can be a empowering experience as you learn how to harvest food and how to support the growth of a living thing.   Simply learning where food comes from can lead to appreciation for it.  Of course herbs and flowers are more likely to be planted in these small flower pots.  These pots can add great colour and natural properties to the space.

Installing an astroturf pathway will be a great alternative to using asphalt, as its a softer material and even softer on knees.  Astroturf is another way how to reduce the environmental foot print as astroturf is made from recycled tires, another example of how the space is up-cycling old materials.  The pathway will lead to the designated areas of the space.  I plan for the path to have lots of turns and curves to add some fun qualities to the children’s open running space.

Where ever the path does not cover grass will be placed.  Grass adds colour as well as a nice softness to the space.

Adding Trees and Plants

We must remember that children’s senses are heightened when outdoors. By adding more greenery we are allowing children to use all their senses.  To create an environment that does integrate the use of all senses I would add plants in free areas of the space. Children will be welcome to look at, touch, smell and even hear the leaves rustling in the wind.  I would like to plant shrubs of different colours, such as green and red.  Adding tall ornamental grasses can create a whimsical feel to the space. They are also low maintenance like shrubs.  I love the fountain grass in the picture below as the tops of the grass are fluffy and soft, such great properties for the children to explore.

fountain grass

The shrubs, trees and grasses I plan to use will be Native to Ontario.  It is important to use native plants in landscapes, as native plants naturally occur in the environment you live in and will thrive best out of all other plants.  Here’s a list from Southern Wild Design about the benefits of using Native plants in landscapes:

  • Less water …less runoff…less pollution…cleaner waterways
  • Less fertilizing…less runoff…less pollution…cleaner waterways
  • Less chemical pest control…less runoff…less contamination…cleaner waterways
  • Greater food and habitat sources for butterflies, bees, birds and other wildlife
  • Greater biodiversity to reduce disease and pests ( is a great resource to use if interested in finding sustainable native plants to add to a landscape.

My overall goal in designing this environment is to create an open ended learning space where children have the freedom to  explore and discover about nature, their peers, and themselves.  I want children to find inspiration within their environment.  I wanted to make this space as natural as possible.  By building a natural space children’s health and education will be benefited and the overall environment will benefit from this project.  Adding plants, trees and other natural materials can reconnect children to nature through play and help others find their appreciation for it.



When re-designing a space it’s easy to let your imagination run wild, but reality will hit in some way…

Money, Money, Money, Money!

After searching the prices of  play yard equipment I thought I could use in my re-design, I thought “how is this going to get put together?”  I had researched the cost of other natural playgrounds made by Earthscape Play and  Bienenstock Playgrounds, and compared my design to some of their playgrounds to estimate the cost of my re-design.  The estimated project cost would be from $50,000-$100,000.  The cost of the play yard will be a major barrier to over come.  The estimated cost is a lot of money to come up with at once, there fore it will take time to get the money needed.  But within in that time the project needs to be brought up to the school principal, and parent council board members to discuss the importance of this project and what possible investments from the school could be put into it.  Searching for funders would be a great way to help afford the cost of the playground.  Asking volunteers to help  build and plant would save on contracting costs.  Lastly, asking the community to donate new and re-usable materials can help us save.


The Timeline is another barrier.  While the play yard is under construction, where will the children be able to play?  The kindergarten students would have to share the play yard in the back of the school where the Primary students play, for a minimum of two months.  To avoid this scenario and avoid building in the Canadian winter, I think the re-design would be best to be completed in the summer time as the children are off from school.  This way there will no conflict with the construction and school schedule.  Hopefully this could be organized to make the build easier.

Safety Controversy

Looking at the redesign of the playground you could think of the many possible ways a child could manage to hurt them self.  There are two structures that involve risk taking such as the slide and the climbing web. Many of the tree stumps used in these areas can be seen as a safety hazard, as children could fall off and hurt them self.  I would expect there would be some parents or even school officials, that could address their concerns regarding the safety.  I need to take parents and other officials concern’s seriously as they have a great impact on how this project will be carried out.  I will do my to address their concerns but try to get officials to understand why I am adding this component to my design. When we deny risk, it is detrimental to children’s development (Jupp, 2015).  Learning through Landscapes published Berlin playground case studies.  Each of these case studies document changes made to playgrounds where a flat tarmac surface only existed.  Since making these changes they’ve witnessed how the changes in the landscape changed the children.  The new playgrounds allowed the children to discover and explore new scientific and mathematical concepts and introduced the children to taking risks and challenges.  The study showed that the new playground may have resulted in more injuries, however, there was a decrease in serious injuries;

“The number of small accidents has increased since the removal of tarmac but the number of more serious accidents has decreased as children behave more cautiously, are aware of their own abilities and the consequences of their actions” (Learning From Landscapes, 2013).

I’m truly hoping to build relationships with the parents and other school officials, to have them trust my re-design will not only enhance the play space, but be beneficial for the children’s development.


I have to think about who will maintain this play yard after the design is completed.  I planned to include many native plants to reduce the maintenance of watering and trimming, however, I did leave grass lawns in between the pathways and play areas to add colour and softness to the space.  Grass needs cutting, therefore I need to plan that the grass be cut throughout the year excluding the winter season.  I would need to ask the school officials who could possibly be responsible to cut the grass monthly and perhaps suggest they need to hire workers to maintain the space.



Strategies: Gaining Support, Funding, and Grants

Before reaching out to corporations who could possibly support the building of this project, I need to ensure this project is supported by parents of the children.  I need ensure I address the issue to parents by sharing how flourished environments can benefit children’s learning.  I need to ask parents to complain about the state of the school yard and share why it needs to be re-vitalized with school officials.  Parents want the best for their children, therefore I think this is one of the best first steps I can take to make this project possible.

Its a small world out there and you never know which parents may have connections to resources and trades, or may have access to getting materials such as reclaimed wood, stones, plants etc.  Showing my design plan to the parents and asking if they or anyone one in the community may have materials to donate could save on costs.  Turning the project  in to a community based one can benefit the community and the budget.  When community members are involved, the value of community can be taught to the children in a very relatable way.

Funding & Grants

Its important to research funding and grants when completing projects like this, as cost is a major factor in determining whether the completion is possible or not.

TD Friends of the Environment


TD Friends of the Environment “…supports Environmental Initiatives with a primary focus on environmental education, urban greening and enhancing biodiversity, and energy conservation” (Toronto Dominion, n.d.).  The foundations eligible projects are:

  • Community Gardens*
  • Environmental Education Projects*
  • Outdoor Classrooms*
  • Protection of Endangered Species/Wildlife*
  • Recycling/Composting Programs*
  • Tree Planting and Urban Naturalization Projects*
  • Energy Conservation/Renewable Energy*
  • Research Projects*
  • Habitat restoration                                                                                      (Toronto Dominion, n.d.)

Elementary schools are eligible for applying.  It must be ensured that the request, project outline and budget for funding is submitted before the project starts.  I think the TD Friends of the Environment foundation makes great funder as they also can help find volunteers for projects they fund as well.

Markham Environmental Sustainability Fund


Markham Environmental Sustainability Fund is a program that helps fund innovative and leading environmental initiatives that contribute to the health of the natural environment.  This program been providing many financial resources for community and school projects “…provides financial resources for projects in Markham that promote environmental responsibility and enhance the protection of Markham’s natural resources” (City of Markham, 2014).

The fund provides financial resources for projects in Markham that promote environmental responsibility and enhance the protection of the Markham’s natural resources (City of Markham, 2014).

Many environmental benefits can be included in this re-design such as a making a rain garden, creating an organic waste program, and a accessible eco school yard .  Schools are eligible, however they need to fall under the Zero Waste School guidelines.  The project plan and any other supporting resources need to be submitted in the application.

Toyota Evergreen Learning Grounds School Ground Greening Grants


Toyota Evergreen Learning Grounds program offers up to $3,500 for schools located on School Board/District property.  It helps build outdoor classrooms where students can play, learn and develop a genuine respect for nature (Evergreen, 2015).  There may be some boundaries around eligibility, as one of the requirements is that the space must be public.  Perhaps that could be worked out with School officials, as Evergreen is a strong supporter in believing the importance of children engaging in the environment.  To apply you must arrange a site visit to have a design consultation with an Evergreen School Ground Consultant.

Other Possible Project Supporters and Partners

Some corporations and organizations may not provide funding opportunities but can help donate materials and money towards the school’s project.

  • Loblaw
  • Home Depot
  • Landscape Ontario
  • Markham Mobility Foundation
  • Sheridan Nurseries
  • City of Markham
  • Seeds of Change


This was one of my most favourite projects I have ever completed for school (I can’t believe I’m saying that!)  I absolutely loved the purpose and intention behind why I decided to re-design the play yard space.  Design can be fun, but it’s important to be realistic in your planning.  It’s an essential factor to address the importance of the design changes being made to everyone, from children to parents, School/Board officials and the community.  Reaching out for support can help design projects like this take off and become possible to create.  I know for the future that if I were to ever be involved in a children’s space re-design, the experience I had completing this project has greatly enhanced my knowledge of what steps I need to take in order to make a re-design a reality.


City of Markham. (2014). City of Markham – Environmental Sustainability Fund. Retrieved from

Evergreen. (2015). Toyota Evergreen Learning Grounds School Ground Greening Grants | Evergreen. Retrieved from

International Society for Technology in Education. (2013, July). Retrieved from

Jupp, L. (2015, September 10). Introduction to Environmental Design – Underlying Theories and Principles.

Learning From Landscapes.Retrieved from

Toronto Dominion. (n.d.). Environmental Grants & Funding for Environmental Projects | TD FEF. Retrieved from