Little Bluestem Landscape Architecture has released a manual on how to reimagine schoolyards to make them more climate-resilient. JOHN WOODS / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS

A new guide on greening schoolyards calls on kindergarten-to-Grade 12 communities to reimagine lots, which are typically home to black tops and sports fields, so they become climate-resilient sites where students can learn to care for local ecosystems.

Ahead of the return to school, Little Bluestem Landscape Architecture has published an 80-page booklet with landscaping tips and lesson plans to build learners’ eco-literacy.

“We’re in a climate crisis right now and schools are a massive green sink in many of our communities. Right now, they’re really not living up to their full potential for the land mass that they take up,” said Darcy Granove, principal of the Winnipeg firm.

The manual was designed with all grades in mind.It encourages educators to set aside a few hours at the start of the year to give students a tour of their schoolyard, observe its elements and discuss how to improve its natural qualities.

The authors recommend planting ecological patches with diverse species, enhancing the yard’s edges — extending habitats by installing shrubs, tallgrass prairie areas and trees on boulevards and near property lines — and introducing rotating “no-go zones” to limit trampling and over-use.

“The biggest challenge is we are keeping (anywhere) from 150 to 500 kids in a school area so oftentimes, what will happen is it just gets stripped and it just turns into mud,” Granove said, adding that landscape, much like paved asphalt surfaces and turf, is uninspiring and does not support plants or wildlife.

Teachers and school staff should consider providing the living elements of their yards with “some life support,” the guide says.

“Consider burning prairie patches, watering trees, weeding and mulching to prevent invasive species, aerating soil, introducing nutrients (compost/ fertilizer/fire), and trimming dead branches,” it states.

Natural playgrounds, outdoor classrooms and land-based learning spaces — which were growing in popularity before the COVID-19 pandemic sparked concerns about indoor air quality and a renewed emphasis on well-being — have become even more commonplace since 2020.

Countless school communities have undertaken renovations to honour the traditional land on which classrooms sit.

“By understanding the ecosystems around us we can learn how to help care for the landscape and foster a reciprocal relationship with the plants, animals and each other,” states an excerpt from landEd’s newly released green guide.

Last year, Oak Park High School completed a patio that was designed with sand and stones to mimic the wheel of a Métis Red River cart. The outdoor space, a student-led project in the Pembina Trails School Division, features sitting benches and gardens of sage, cedar and other traditional medicines.

In Seven Oaks, about half of all school division sites, including the board office, have planted Indigenous-themed gardens.

“Kids are being involved in picking and understanding those medicines. I would say it’s both climate action and an act of reconciliation,” superintendent Brian O’Leary said.

The initiatives focus on restoring and learning about native prairie species that were wiped out as a result of colonization and over-farming, O’Leary said.

Little Bluestem’s guide uses the Amber Trails Farm — a suburban vegetable garden built on the grounds of a K-8 building in north Winnipeg — as an example of a school community building a climate resilient backyard.

The manual is available to download free of charge via the company’s website under its educational branch, landEd.

Over the last decade, the landscape architecture firm has worked with École Riverview School, École Laura Secord School and Phoenix School in Headingley. Its upcoming outdoor education projects are slated for École Belmont, Niji Mahkwa School and Sansome School.


By Maggie Macintosh, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

Original Published on Aug 15, 2023 at 05:29

This item reprinted with permission from   Free Press   Winnipeg, Manitoba
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