Premier Christy Clark has announced $8 million for upgrading school playgrounds. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if “upgrades” meant not more plastic slides and climbing things, but a wider vision of what the grounds for children’s play could involve?
What if schools were to sponsor nature-based play? That would mean play in meadows and woods, among bird feeders, tiny fish ponds, hollow logs and low labyrinths created by interesting shrubs.
What if schools used their grounds not just for recess and sports, but for tracking and counting migrating birds and nests?
Think of the specimens students could find to put under microscopes in the classroom, think of what they could learn from schoolyard thermometers and sundials, from going out with collecting jars, sketch pads and story journals? Nature has always fed science, art and literature.
Some Victoria schools (Sir James Douglas and Cloverdale) have intriguing natural rock for kids to play on, but others, such as James Bay elementary, have nothing but blank flat concrete and climbing equipment.
As housing densifies and new parks fail to be created by municipalities, schoolyards become an ever-more significant portion of total urban green space. They should not be wasted by being black-topped.
Research tells us that time spent in nature makes children more relaxed, focused and refreshed for classroom learning.
No urban space is completely natural, but schools could do a lot better in becoming oases of greenspace in a paved, artificial, largely indoor world.
The B.C. Teachers Federation has pronounced the premier’s focus on playgrounds myopic, but in fact it could be the start of something transformative both to urban landscapes and to kids’ recreational lives, if only schools could shift the emphasis from monkey bars to the benefits of nature-play.