Nature Notes – From the Backyard to the Biosphere. Schoolgrounds for the Future

THE VOICE September 4, 2002

Well, somehow another September has rolled along. The heat of the summer has broken and it’s time to again look toward pursuits of the harvest season. We’ve all seen the back-to-school supplies signs up in store windows. Of course, they’ve been there since July, when the kids first got out of school, but that’s another story. September is the time when parents re-juggle their schedules and children must readjust from the freedoms of summer to the structure of a school day once more.

What will kids be working on back in the classroom? Math, writing skills, computers…science, phys ed and history…How about botany, pond studies and landscape planning? Presenting to corporations the benefits of schoolground naturalization to obtain funding for restoration projects? What about leading workshops for other elementary students on how to plan and develop a restored schoolyard? No problem for certain devoted little souls.

Students across Canada are taking part in a growing trend of greening schoolyards, turning these spaces from what one little girl has described as boring and jail-like to a place students never want to leave. From BC to Nova Scotia, organizations such as Evergreen have been involved in helping schools transform their outdoor areas into living classrooms, spaces in which the students can interact with and learn about ecological processes. As one young student said, learning about nature from textbooks or infrequent “field days” just doesn’t give you the same feeling as walking out to the back of the school every day and learning first-hand.

While schoolground naturalization doesn’t have undivided support, the benefits of hands-on environmental education close to home are hard to argue. Successful restoration projects have typically involved students, teachers, parents, individuals from the community, as well as some local politicians and private businesses. What better way to tighten a community’s ties than to bring to fruition a child’s description of paradise – plants, sand and flowers, a pond and a river by the school?

I know, maybe I’ve gotten too utopian and romantically idealistic for you, but consider this: 25% of a typical child’s day will be spent in a lifeless schoolyard composed in most cases of little more nature than a homogeneous patch of grass. What is this environment teaching our kids about the outdoor world? What pleasure can be gained for the budding minds of young explorers in the environment typical of most schoolyards? Think of the difference in psychological stimulation between an occasional removed trip to “the country” and a daily observation of the school wetland.

Instilling a concern for nature must begin at the beginning. Children exposed to nature on a daily basis, working on readings by the pond, doing classroom duties in the rooftop garden, sharing their own restored landscape with parents and friends are children who have learned to love and respect their environment. An environment they have helped to create, an environment they have worked on together, an environment they are proud to show off is one that has shared not only the gifts of fruit and flower, but also a life-long valuation of the connection between humans and the natural world.

For more information on schoolground naturalization success stories and ideas on how to proceed with your own project, a great place to start is at Evergreen’s website: http://www.evergreen.ca/ Two excellent short films on the topic were put out by the NFB in 2000: A Crack in the Pavement: Digging In and A Crack in the Pavement: Growing Dreams.

Zoe Dalton is a graduate of York University’s environmental science program, and is currently enjoying working towards a Master of Arts in Integrated Studies with Athabasca U. She can be reached for comments or questions at zk_dalton@hotmail.com.

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