In 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)
- 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”
- “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?
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 Churchill 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).”
- “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:
“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).
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 hills
- 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)
- “No play structures that need to be closed in winter”
- “Soccer nets” (2 responses)
- “Repainted 4-square”
- “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”.
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.”
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.
- 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.)
- Perhaps to create a students’ survey, so they can provide their own input. It could also be fruitful to have students on the committee.
- 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?