Grenfell Elementary's Natural Playground
Created October 26, 2011 by On behalf of Grenfell's PAC
Sir Wilfred Grenfell Elementary School is an urban school found in a predominantly immigrant and working-class population. Long-time residents, many of them Grenfell alumni, share fond childhood memories of the neighbourhood as a reason to raise their own families here. New residents express a desire for their families to integrate into the community, but find it challenging to engage others in today’s rushed world. More than 50% of today’s residents speak English as a second language.
Our school’s playground no longer meets safety codes and the Vancouver School Board is obligated to remove it. Our proposal intends to replace it with a natural playscape. For many students in our school, this is the closest many of them will ever get to uninterrupted, outdoor free play. Unfortunately, British Columbia’s provincial government no longer provides school districts with funds for new playgrounds. We need Aviva’s support to reintroduce natural space at Grenfell.
Grenfell is a school committed to its students, staff and to community members. If you walk through our school on any given day, you will find students volunteering in various roles, forming committees and becoming advocates in different areas such as sustainability and anti-bullying, Haiti and Pennies for Peace. Over and above what is found in the curriculum, staff have bought lunch or paid field trip dues for students and have shuttled students to and from tournaments. Staff have invested their personal time and funds into our students and we are thankful.
In partnership with Collingwood Neighbourhood House, Grenfell operates a before- and after-school care program to assist families who need childcare for their children. In 2009, Grenfell further established its dedication to early childhood education, and opened its doors to house a StrongStart program for children under the age of 5. Grenfell has also run regular English as a Second Language classes for older members of the community, in conjunction with the University of British Columbia.
One of the most popular enhancements to the school grounds over the years have been the introduction of picnic tables. These tables are used every day before and after school, as parents like to sit and socialize while waiting for their children. This began our inspiration for an inclusive, inviting space, meant for young and old alike.
Maria Montessori said that “Play is the child’s work.” Natural playscapes offer accessibility for all, regardless of abilities, culture and gender, with less emphasis on physical abilities and more importance placed on creativity and imagination, removing the “king of the castle” pattern so often found on playgrounds. They stimulate more diverse, collaborative and creative play. Several studies suggests that natural play contributes to the overall physical, cognitive, and emotional development of children, helps them score higher on tests for concentration and self-discipline, and helps them exhibit less aggressive behavior.
In today’s urban environment, where the experience of childhood is changing rapidly, young children have limited opportunities to connect with nature. Natural playgrounds allow this interaction with organic surroundings. We imagine our children engaging in open-ended, imaginative, non-competitive play, evoking their sense of wonder and curiosity. We envision climbing, rolling down hills, playing with water, exploring leaves and bugs, talking in quiet social areas, and moving around on interesting pathways (and lots of laundry!).
Activities that engage children in the design and care of the site — planting seeds and watering plants, creating paths, painting signs — nurtures pride of place. A space that enhances their ability to teach and facilitate play sends the message to staff that they are valued and respected. An outdoor environment that’s beautiful and engaging, where the community feels connected, sends the message that they are cared for.
While the average school playground structure costs about $80,000 in initial costs, natural playscapes cost much less to construct and maintain, especially in relation to their respective play value. Playscapes are designed to eliminate fall heights, which are the number one cause of playground injuries sustained. Open sight lines make them easy to supervise.
Though this is not a wealthy community, its members have always shown support for the students, teachers and staff at Grenfell. Their generous contributions of both money and time volunteered at Read-a-Thons, Cookie Sales, Clothes for Cash, Movie Nights and other fundraising ventures are greatly appreciated.
The reality is that the slated demolition of the playground is less than 20 months away and we have only raised a portion of the funds our vision requires. We would like to recognize and thank the community for its ongoing support and we hope that the voters and Aviva will consider supporting our special project among many admirable causes.