Why and how to make schoolyards greener?

Various projects, the result of consultation

CAUE of Paris

Every project will be different depending on site size, environment, stakeholder motivation, budget, etc.

Among the various projects already done, here are the types of layouts that are common:

  • Development conducive to stormwater management: in many cases the existing mineral coating layer will be partially or completely removed to find open ground, RCW (fragmented ramial wood, editor’s note) or vegetation. Solutions for infiltration, retention or storage of rainwater are proposed, via a valley, a landscape basin or a draining coating (in case of use requiring a mineral coating). Provided this reflection, the water boards can support these kinds of projects;
  • Plantations, nature corners and vegetable gardens: it is about planting the three layers of vegetation and/or reinforcing the existing ones. Trees will be the allies of a redevelopment that promotes shade. Preference will also be given to the creation of lawns, flower meadows, especially in less visited areas, as well as nature corners (beneficial for biodiversity) or small vegetable gardens (or orchards), awareness-raising media and educational time;
  • landforms, natural games and outdoor schools: creating mounds conducive to games and motor skills or more natural games (many performed as part of the Oasis project in Paris) will allow to create a pleasant and well-recognized terrain. to create. Quieter spaces can also be created. In addition, teaching outside may require certain specific arrangements and suitable furniture;
  • Sun protection and cooling equipment : pergolas, shade houses, canopies, curtains, courtyard extension… In addition to vegetation, other solutions for creating shade can be tried. For example, they can be combined with creeper projects (also to darken classrooms). It can also involve the construction of water points or adapted water games.
Overgrown courtyard in Niort
City of Niort

To embark on such a project, consultation with all stakeholders is a fundamental point: it is in fact a matter of dealing with the childrenthem parents of students, the teachersthe difference community services involved in school and extracurricular (Atsem, maintenance and management services, etc.) to build a joint project.

These consultations may include certain periods of student involvement. The founding ofworkshops in school or out of school hours, led by an association, a specialist company or internally to the community, can help define the project.

make a shared state of the current use of the courtyard can be very helpful, for example, so that each child can express his practices and needs, but also so that he understands the needs of others. It is of course alsoimagine possible futures and dreamed.

Once the project is completed, the definition of usage rules may also be the subject of dedicated time and allow ad hoc appropriation of the court and its administration. Teachers and teaching staff will also be associated with identify needs, constraints, practices then first confront the project ideas with the conditions of use and management in the yard but also in the building.

Various methods are possible for this: discussion meetings, preliminary discussions with stakeholders, opinion on the plan, etc.

Collective Solutions

map of a courtyard in Dunkirk
While every project is different based on yard size, environment,
budget, etc., some attachments often come back to make the soil water-repellent,
plantations, natural games… © Phytolab Paysagistes – city of Dunkerque

In addition to consultation with users, it is a project that will potentially mobilize many skills of the community (technical service and elected officials) or even beyond: education, green and construction in particular.

A management involving all departments and stakeholders is then necessary. These different specificities mean that for communities embarking on these types of projects, a period of maturation is required. Eighteen months seems like a good range from idea to delivery.

Make no mistake: greening schoolyards is a divisive. It is necessary to ensure that avoid reluctance by pedagogy and collective search for solutions. Three points are particularly controversial:

“Nature is dirty”

“Nature is dirty” probably happens in first place in the difficulties to be taken into account. Parents, teachers and assistants, maintenance personnel can indeed take a vague stance on the construction of lawns in school playgrounds.

It is therefore a matter of making sure that the approach is explained, its benefits for the children in a sense, but also of defining rules for the management and use of the garden to “slush” in the classroom. to prevent.

Of the solutions to exist. In terms of landscaping, the establishment of “clean zones” around the vegetable garden or nature corners will probably be desirable. Potentially muddy or earthy sites can be protected by mulching (shredded pruning, straw, or RCW) or vegetation. This also keeps the soil moist and reduces watering. You can also put road signs in the vegetable garden – this system is old but has proven itself.

The installation of “strip” spaces (with mats and other scraping grids) is also possible, creating a buffer space between outside and inside. Finally, clothing strategies such as ready-to-wear boots or overtrousers can be effective.

All you have to do is find a place to store them easily. At primary school it may also be possible to have the children take off their shoes or change shoes when they enter the school. If necessary, the areas can be prohibited during rainy periods by means of a marker or a flag system that is set up with the students.

“Nature is dangerous”

Green corner in a schoolyard
City of Chevilly-Larue

“Nature is dangerous” is a close second, sometimes even first in the points of opposition to be managed. Allergies, various stings, falling branches or emerging roots…

A lot annoyance can be invoked, forgetting the positive health effects. In general, the risks must be weighed against all the benefits of the presence of nature. Effect on stress, cognitive effect, shade (UV and heat protection), a whole range of benefits on children’s health is brought by the presence of nature.

Furthermore, Ben Walschaerts, safety adviser for the schoolyards of the municipality of Antwerp, says, “Increasing ‘risk competence’ in children is an enormous challenge. By providing an overprotected environment, children no longer know how to deal with risks. […] Most accidents happen to children who simply drop themselves. We climb somewhere and then we fall, we let go“(2).

Finally, the management of vegetable corners or nature corners during school holidays must be taken into account very early in the project. These spaces can be difficult to maintain and harvest in the summer, when the school building no longer houses classes.

Several methods are possible: aromatic plants that withstand the summer period and offer a wider harvest range than fruiting bodies, small fruit shrubs (raspberries, currants, etc.), orchards that require less maintenance from the students/teaching teams as vegetable gardens, as many perennials as possible plants, which last for several years and require less management and maintenance.

In any case it is connect with actors who are likely to use the property in the summer or carry out a gardening activity (e.g. a leisure center), or to associate other actors (parents of pupils, associations) who might be interested in managing spaces in the summer.

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