Thank You – We Love Our Yard!

Churchill Alternative students celebrate our new upper yard

This September 2018, our students came back to a beautiful new yard.  When asked what they think of it the students, teachers and students say that they love it.

THANK YOU to all of the members of our Churchill community – families, friends, local businesses, and many others – who supported this project over the years.  Whether you gave money, ideas, or your valuable time – we couldn’t have done it without all of your contributions.

The Log Jam starts to be put in place in August 2018!
Starting Construction in July 2018

We Did It!!!


What a great way to end the school year!  Alterna Bank came to Churchill to give us the last amount of money we needed to complete our schoolyard rejuvenation.

423We’ll have shovels in the ground this summer and a brand new yard with the log jam structure to come back to in the fall.

Here’s a HUGE thank you to Alterna Bank along with all of our families and the many other supporters who helped us achieve this milestone:

Fundraising Auction – Online Bidding is Live (until June 13th)!

DSC_7860The Churchill Alternative School Council is planning its last major fundraiser – an auction – to get us even closer to our goal.

Here are all the details you need:

Online Auction: Fri June 1- Wed June 13 (ending at 9:00 pm).  Visit to preview the items!  Please share the info with family and friends and place your own bids.

Silent / live auction: June 15th at the School of Rock performance.  Bidding opens at 6pm
Concert by the Churchill School of Rock at 7pm
Auction items will include collaborative student art as well as creations and s
ervices by Churchill Families and Friends.

Check out a sneak peek of some of the student art that will be available for bidding at the School of Rock event on the 15th:

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IMG_2257       IMG_2259

Churchill Dance-A-Thon



On Thursday April 5, 2018, Churchill held its first ever Dance-a-Thon!  This was an opportunity for students to dance as well as help raise money for the schoolyard.

Students grouped with their tree families and then each tree faDance-a-thon from Kate [DSF_4693]mily went to 4 different classrooms to learn 4 different dance routines.  The groups then gathered in the gym to dance all together. A lot of fun was had!

Here are a few comments from the day:

    • “The Dance-a-thon was a terrific event! My students thoroughly enjoyed dancing with their own Tree Family and with the student in the Tree Family that they were partnered with.  The students in Tiiu’s class did aDance-a-thon from Kate [DSF_4713]n awesome job of being great role models and leaders, as they walked the students through the new dances everyone was learning.In addition to being a good fundraising activity, it was a wonderful opportunity for Team Building! A great demonstration of multi-age groupings at work, too!”
    • “That was one of the “funnest” Tree Family events!”
  • “I loved how well organized this initiative was. Tiiu and her students were amazing! Everyone was engaged, on task and having fun. The “student teachers” were patient, flexible, fun and had great energy! I especially enjoyed ending the initiative as a school and dancinDance-a-thon.P1220282g together to the new dances. As a teacher, I was delighted to see former students (who may have struggled in the past) fully participating and SHINING as leaders. This was one of the best full school wide initiatives!”

In financial terms, the day was also a huge success.  We raised $6,588 through our online portal and over $7,500 in cash and cheques for a grant total of around $14,000!!!  That means we’re about $19,500 away from building our log jam.

Dance-a-thon.P1220292Dance-a-Thon Documents:

Upper Yard Concept Plan!

After many years of discussing the need for a new Churchill Upper Yard we’re getting close to seeing it happen!  CASC has approved a yard concept and fundraising plan informed by everything that we’ve heard to date from Churchill families, staff and the OCDSB.  We’re excited to share:


The budget for this plan is $130,000.  As of February 2018, we have approx. $95,000 secured.  Thanks to all of your contributions – especially last year when we reached out for donations – we have enough money in the bank or committed to build everything except the log jam feature in the summer of 2018!

But we really want the log jam. This means that we will need to raise another $35,000 by the end of June.  While the timeline may delay the construction of the log jam until summer 2019, it will definitely be worth it.  Stay tuned as we unveil our upcoming FUNdraising activities.

With an exciting plan in hand and the bulk of the money in the bank we’re all lined up to make this happen.*  Check out our FAQ for more details about the project.

The design includes:

  • Features made of natural materials (stumps, logs, rocks) that reflect the feedback we heard from parents, teachers and students for more nature elements.
  • A “circulation route” around the perimeter for students to run along (without running into students that are playing in the yard).
  • A log retainer with sitting stumps and boulders to level the yard and offer some features that can be used in the winter.  Anything raised, like a play structure, in the yard can not be used in the winter BUT the retaining wall is a part of the landscape and so can still be used when the structures are closed.LogJamPic
  • Centrepiece features: a set of monkey bars (highly requested by everyone) and a “log jam” (an example is pictured, right).  The log jam will encourage creative play and create a more natural feel in the yard.
  • An enclosed sand box for students who love to dig.
  • Full accessibility according to current standards.

A BIG THANK YOU to everyone who has helped us this far!

Please get in touch at if you can help with fundraising or communications (or if you have any questions).

* We really are ready to roll, unlike last year where delays that were out of our control meant that a 2017 build didn’t happen.  Again – check out our FAQ for more details


Churchill’s Families, Neighbours and Friends Support Schoolyard Rejuvenation

20170429_155527Even though spring has gone into temporary hibernation, support from Churchill Alternative PS’s neighborhood for the schoolyard rejuvenation project has blossomed!

A fundraising activity organized by a Churchill parent and her children not only raised money for “Grounded in Play” but also spread the word about our school’s philosophy and vision. Going from house to house with violets in individually decorated pots, the family encountered wide support and interest in the schoolyard rejuvenation project from the community.

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It is great to see our philosophy of a family & community-centered school come alive. Every little bit helps us reach our fundraising goal to achieve a renewed upper schoolyard.

If you have ideas of how to further support this effort, please contact the Schoolyard Rejuvenation Project Committee at




Opportunity to transform Churchill’s upper yard this summer!

GIP Project WallIn exciting news, the school board just recently confirmed a $25,000 grant to the school so that we can rejuvenate the upper yard (the part of the yard with the monkey bars and other play structures).  But the funds need to be spent this summer!

The school has been saving money for some time, knowing that we’ll need to replace the structures. For the upper yard that we want, we estimate that we’ll need to raise another $30,000 by the end of May. 

We’re reaching out to school’s broader community – parents, guardians, other family members, neighbours, community groups, local businesses – to consider making a tax deductible financial contribution to this playground project.  Any amount, whether it’s $10, $50, $100 or $1000 will be much appreciated and will go a long way to improving the Churchill Schoolyard.

You might be wondering what features are being planned for this phase of our rejuvenation project?  The Committee has received some great feedback. We’ve heard loud and clear that monkey bars and other bars are needed.  The Committee is also looking into features such as logs, stumps and boulders that speak to our school community’s strong love of nature.  We’re also considering elements to support imaginative play – small huts or other structures.

If want to learn more, explore the rest of this schoolyard rejuvenation website.  To make a financial contribution, check out our Donate Page.

Stay tuned for more info as it comes along and feel free to reach out if you have any questions or if you want to support this effort!

Mapping Areas for Improvement

This map summarizes many of the areas in the Churchill schoolyard that have been identified as needing improvement.  It highlights blind spots, problem areas, visibility issues, space usage, and environmental conditions.

This information, in addition to the Teacher Feedback, Parent Feedback, and Student Feedback that we’ve received, is being used to plan the yard. The schoolyard rejuvenation process will be implemented in several phases, with Phase 1 – rejuvenation of the Upper Yard – on its way this summer.

Thanks to the school staff and parent supporters who have pulled this map together!













Teacher Feedback from spring 2016

DSC_7873In addition to surveying parents and students, Churchill’s Schoolyard Rejuvenation Committee surveyed teachers in the Spring of 2016 about the schoolyard.  The following is a summary of their feedback:

Question: Do you use any parts of the playground to meet the curriculum? If so, please explain.

Teachers spoke to a wide range of subjects that they teach in different parts of the schoolyard:

  • Back to Nature is well-used for a range of subjects including science (plants, soil, animals), arts and language (poetry, creative writing, photography, art), social studies (mapping, first nation studies) as well as mindfulness, nature exploration, release of butterflies, and more.
  • The Lower Yard’s uses include phys ed / DPA and games including parachute games, dramatic play and running games. The pavement is also used for math, French, gym, art.
  • The Upper Yard’s uses include fine motor and social skill building activities, art/drama, phys ed / DPA; the structures can be useful to teach science (gravity / forces); the sand area is used to expand the play with materials that students have been using in class.
  • The Stage is used for group discussions, writing activities, outdoor math time, and silent reading.
  • The Garden is used to teach about soils and plants.
  • Ramps (on the deck and by the upper yard) are used to teach science.
  • The yard is also broadly used for math (number sense and numeracy, measurement, geometry, shape scavenger hunts); language arts (poetry, writing, practicing vocabulary and time using chalk on the asphalt); art (e.g. sun shadow art); phys ed / DPA and outdoor games to make the learning fun; and science (e.g. observing seasonal changes)

Question: Please identify two or three problem areas in the yard

Teachers identified aDSC_1218 number of problems with the yard including drainage issues, blind spots, lack of nature and green spaces, lack of shade, lack of toys for imagination play, challenges with a big open lower yard that has no demarcated areas for different activities, and a lack of space to run and play.

These issues are being mapped onto the school site plan and will be available in the near future.

Question: How would you improve the grounds?  Many different ideas were put forward:

Develop an outdoor seating area / classroom space: “I like the idea of an outdoor classroom space. A place where an entire class could work.”

More grass and nature:  “In the schoolyard we need less pavement…more grass, trees, tables.”   “Incorporating a grass area for the children to sit do small group activities on.”  “More nature materials (rocks, logs, wooden ramp, small house, spider web made of ropes for climbing)”  “Put flower bins in huge pots; plant vines on the fences”.

DSC_6046Designate active play facilitators (e.g. “Grade six “leaders” could organize pickup basketball and soccer for younger students, help with reffing and sharing the rules”; or there could be more adult-led games and activities)

DSC_6867Make the yard more appealing (e.g. add colour on walls, fences and grounds; add some turf beside the cement; have a school sweep up in the spring).


Enhance gross motor activities:

  • DSC_7860More structure variety and climbing opportunities in the upper yard (e.g. ropes, bars, balance beams, variety of natural structures; huge rocks to climb on; simple rope net for climbing).
  • Divide the lower yard more effectively into different areas (e.g for soccer, basketball, etc..); this could involve painting games and lines onto the asphalt. The basketball nets could also be removed.
  • DSC_8363Provide better sports equipment / opportunities (e.g. better soccer equipment, more balls and Frisbees, ga ga game, new nets for the basketball posts, hop scotch games, an area to run in without obstacles, sleds in winter, and having the lines for the four square etc redone).
  • Provide a variety of activities like classroom centers: “break giant bubbles, hopscotch, dance party, a half tree log to practice balance, sensory area” “Back to nature water features and play outdoor kitchen. Gardens.”
  • Have an area for gross motor development such as riding tricycles (for kindergarteners)
  • Use a connected trail around the school

Enhance social play:

  • P2030004Provide a variety of toys, games and activities (e.g. art activities, easy to transport bins with dramatic play items, books; games like twister, large chess; more sand toys; plastic building blocks; painting games on the asphalt; providing activities that promote social interactions among many children)
  • Ensure that the yard has a variety of spaces (sheltered areas; music corner; outdoor games corner with weatherproof cards / checkers etc; fort / house-like area; drama area on the stage; tables or quiet spaces to encourage small groups to socialize)
  • Teachers noted that a number of areas are currently well-used for social play: in the upper yard with gymnastic/cartwheels in the sand, children playing in the sand, sitting on the benches sharing their books, and students playing soccer games, skipping and four square together.

Enhance cognitive play:

  • Provide board games (portable board games in the spring / summer (tic tac toe, manacala, cards, bean bag toss game; draw lines for a big chess game; provide chess boards and tic-tac-toe on small tables)
  • Provide creative activities such as weaving / loom in back to nature; strategy games / outdoor play / classroom in Back to Nature area; fence weaving corner, wood scrubs corner for building bridges/towers; social games, and opening up the back to nature area more frequently DSC_5977for creative free writing, drawing, reading etc
  • Support more games like Connect Four and Shlockey where lots of thinking has to happen.
  • Provide equipment for digging and building in both summer and winter.

Enhance quiet play:

  • OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERATeachers spoke to the idea of providing benches, nooks, and other designated quiet areas (e.g. reading corners, seating in areas that are protected by the elements, creative nooks and other small spaces, grassy area with tree stumps for sitting, reading and socializing with others).

In summary many, many ideas were put forward that will be taken into consideration as plans move forward to rejuvenate the schoolyard.







Summary of Parent Feedback from 2016

ParentSurveyPictureIn the fall of 2016, the Churchill Schoolyard Rejuvenation Committee developed a parent survey to gather feedback about the Churchill schoolyard.

Parents were invited to give their feedback in a couple of ways: (a) at the schoolyard project’s launch event where the questions were placed on flipchart paper, and (b) using an online survey. The survey closed at the end of December and received 20 responses – thank all of you who filled it out!  Below you’ll find a summary of this feedback. (Note that the first picture below is of students in our schoolyard and the rest of the pictures have been included as inspiration).

Question #1) What have you and your family loved about the Churchill schoolyard?

Parents identified that they loved many different features of the yard including:

  • The Deck / Stage (6 responses)DSC_1465
  • The Monkey Bars (4 responses including the following comments: “We have loved watching our daughter work hard at mastering the monkey bars. She loves them to death.” “Both my children learned how to do monkey bars here.”);
  • The Natural Space / Trees (4 responses including: “We love the trees. The playground is nice, but could use some update. But keep the trees.”)
  • Back to Nature (3 responses)
  • The Buddy Bench (2 responses)

Parents also love the variety of spaces for the kids and provided the following comments about what they enjoy:

  • “The wooden platforms”
  • “We love that it is fully gated and safe. We also love that there is lots of room for the kids to run and play.  It is nice to have a separate play area for the little kids and the bigger kids.”
  • “A connection between the upper and lower yards that all the kids can share.”
  • “The different sections addressing the different student’s interests.”
  • “The tiered nature of it, separates play areas”
  • “The nice large sitting area”.

Question # 2) What problems / challenges have you seen with the schoolyard?

The predominant issue, cited by 70% of the parents who responded, is the Lack of Grass / Abundance of Cement in the yard (14 responses).  Their comments include:

  • “Need grass for soccer and cartwheels”bespoke mounds
  • “Too much cement! Hard on little knees and elbows”
  • “Asphalt…waaaay too much of it”
  • “Lots of pavement”
  • “It’s all concrete”
  • “There is very little green space that is accessible to students in a regular basis that is safe for them to access on their own.”
  • “It is cement and feels unnatural.”
  • “Lots of asphalt”
  • “Too much hard-scape”
  • “No grass for cartwheels and somersaults… too much pavement”
  • “The lack of green space”
  • “Lack of natural feel and materials – too much asphalt”
  • “Too much concrete”

A number of parents expressed broad problems / challenges with the yard (8 responses), including:

  • “Upper yard is falling apart, lower yard is ‘boring’”
  • “Too many kids trying to use the one set of monkey bars at the same time, not having enough to do when the structures are closed and not having any areas of shelter or hiding spots to play around and in.”
  • “Size of yard too small”
  • “Too much space that is unusable”
  • “No shade”
  • “Overused, too open”
  • “People fighting”
  • “No swings. No large mounds of snow (snowbanks) in the winter.”

Many parents identified the closure of the play structure in the winter (4 responses), and the current state of the play structure (4 responses) as problems / challenges including the following comments:

  • “The play structures are getting old and do not feel very safe.”
  • “Limited structures to climb and explore, especially in the winter.”
  • “Single bar broken”

The Sand was noted as an issue by 3 respondents including the following comments:

  • “The sand is awful!! It is not accessible for children with different abilities.”
  • “Hate the sand, it comes home in pockets and turned up hems.”

Drainage and slippery ground were noted as issues (3 responses):

  • “Icy steps in the winter”
  • “Slippery deck”
  • “Huge puddles”
  • “Poor drainage”

Parents also identified the concern that they are unable to socialize in the yard after school ends (2 responses), including the following comment:

  • “The school community would be greatly facilitated if families were able to stay and have their children play together and parents have the chance to communicate after school – there are models where after school programs can work together with parents to allow everyone to have a chance to play together after school.”

Question #3) How could a renewed schoolyard better reflect our school’s identity?

**  The Churchill Mission Statement embodies the goals of: Partnerships, Responsibility, Individual success, Mutual respect, Fostering a love of the arts, Modeling lifelong learning and Developing a sense of community.

**  Our school code is:
Take Care of Yourself, Take Care of Each Other, Take Care of This Place.

** The school has the following Core Alternative Tenets: Non-competition, Cooperation and Intrinsic Motivation; Child-centered – directed learning;  Multi-aged groupings; Innovative and differentiated learning environments; Extensive family involvement; Organic learning and assessment; Community and global outreach.

Again, the most commonly identified response (from 70% of those who responded) was the need for the schoolyard to reflect more of a connection with nature:

  • “A connection to nature and the environment is a big part of what children-playing-on-fallen-treeChurchill is about, we need more green space.”
  • “It should look more natural and innovative”
  • “More plant-growing areas”
  • “Community garden to share experiences and the harvest”
  • “Reflect nature (e.g. using wood instead of metal, wood chip on ground instead of cement everywhere)”
  • “I think bringing in more natural materials would suit the school’s identity.”
  • “With natural grass and more nature, kids will feel more safe (it hurts to fall and more like a play field).”school-children-playing-on-log-tangle_001
  • “Safer access to green space.”
  • “The creation of natural environments.”
  • “More green space / naturalized”
  • “More grass”
  • “It would be great to have elements of nature in the playground that the children could play on.”
  • “Do the natural / riskplay thing; do it quickly.”
  • “Environmental Stewardship.”Many of those who responded expressed that a range of learning opportunities could be created via the schoolyard design, offering ideas such as:
  • rainbow-sambas-playground-drums__00894.1429707865.1280.1280
    playground drums

    “Spaces for exploration and inventive play”

  • “A greener and multi-level space designed to move people and imaginations through it”
  • “Some more task-oriented equipment with problem-solving play”
  • “By promoting the development of creative, kinesthetic, social and leadership skills; It is important to have play structures that incorporate different learning skills – ie. music, balance, cooperation, etc.”
  • “A more welcoming play space will naturally lead to more welcoming play”
  • “A playground that encourages learning at all ages”
  • “Movable parts”

A number of other ideas were expressed including:

  • A desire for Artistic features such as murals, built-in musical features and art installations (3 responses); and
  • Cooperative features or activities such as “tools and structures that kids could use together instead of one at a time” (2 responses).
chalk boards and seating
chalk boards and seating

Those who responded also noted the importance of making the schoolyard Accessible and inclusive:

  • If it was accessible, all children would be able to play freely and feel welcome and like they were part of the larger school community.”
  • One respondent noted that this concept would extend to the idea that “the school yard is open to everyone after school.”

Those who filled out the survey offered a number of ideas for winter play.  These included Snow hills for sledding, climbing, and building forts including:

  • Small hills for sledding / sliding (7 responses)
  • Spaces so kids can build snow forts / shelters (3 responses), maybe with the use of hay bales
  • Climbing built out of landscaped finland snow playhills
  • Snow mountainsThe idea of developing a Snow trail / foot path / cross country track tracing the perimeter was brought up (2 responses).

Those who filled out the survey offered ideas for a wide range of Play equipment:

  • “Low logs, rocks, stumps etc to walk along and explore (not a falling hazard)” (2 responses)log spider web
  • “No play structures that need to be closed in winter”
  • “Swings”
  • “Soccer nets” (2 responses)
  • “Repainted 4-square”pavement games
  • “More shlocky boards”
  • “Loose parts for building”
  • “Playing with the outdoor beach toys in the winter; outdoor “snow table” where the kids could use buckets, shovels, diggers, etc to build at standing level”
  • “Increased use of ropes, wood and natural materials”
  • “Some equipment and material without too much rules and instructions in order to let students create and organize their own game”.83a0f1f9f75a944279457eb568911335

Some responses included the need for Shelter from the cold weather:

  • “Trees so that they are protected from the wind that blasts through the current yard”
  • “Protected outdoor areas to get out of the elements in bad weather while still being outside, more tree cover, or a few real large tipis”
  • “Small shelters/lean-tos for imaginative play in groups.”willow dome

Other responses included:

  • That the schoolyard be “Lit for use after sunset”
  • That it would be nice to see “Areas where kids could have open space to run and play”
  • That a welcome feature would be a “Small skating rink; pond which could double as a “back-to-nature” area the rest of the year” (2 responses).

5) Do you have any ideas that could be tested, or immediate actions that could be taken, to enhance play on the Churchill schoolyard?

The following ideas were received:

  • Hay bales to create low structures to play on / behind / with
  • Long logs for kids to balance on, stumps to jump from
  • Sleds with handles to pull each other on.
  • Add tires that children can climb on. Add a hill that children can slide or roll down.British School 4 copyright
  • Instead of clearing away the snow this winter maybe try making a snow pile with it.
  • Create a hill
  • Climbing structure like the one in Clare Park
  • Perhaps buying/building a few large tipis for kids to hang out in in cold or snowy weather.
  • Temporary wind breaks
  • Split times for recess so that there is more room for play (less crowded)
  • Check out the yard configuration at Trille Des Bois Alternative french school in Vanier – they redid their entire yard 2 years ago to embody the same kind of non-competitive/respectful play that Churchill seeks to encourage. (And they did it through fundraising.)land contour
  • Perhaps to create a students’ survey, so they can provide their own input. It could also be fruitful to have students on the committee.

Summary reflections:

  • A major theme that came up was that, to reflect Churchill’s identity, a renewed schoolyard should include more natural elements – i.e. green space, grass, plant-growing areas, natural materials such as wood and wood chips, logs and other natural materials to play on, and elements for outdoor risky play.
  • Parents also want to see a diversity of spaces that support a range of learning opportunities.  These might include artistic features, equipment that supports problem-solving, spaces that allow exploration and inventive play, elements that support cooperation, and features that encourage learning at all ages.

Do you have any thoughts or reactions to share?