Get your EcoKids Outdoor Play Club Started!
Explore the interactive map below and discover simple ways to get your whole school taking action. Creating an EcoKids Outdoor Play Club gives you a say in the culture of outdoor play at your school!
The EcoKids Outdoor Play Club focuses on improving recess and lunch time to give students valuable, unstructured outside play, and fostering stewardship of outdoor spaces and the school environment.
Outdoor Play and Learning with Loose Parts
This is one of the main objectives of your club: take students outside to encourage interactive, rich and meaningful learning experiences. Invite students to explore the natural features of their schoolyard (and beyond!) through free, self-directed play. Browse ideas here in our Take Actions!
Providing a simple set of loose parts and setting aside time for play can encourage creativity, foster collaboration and promote inclusivity.
Effective Recycling for PLAY
A great way for students to learn about the three R’s is to complete a waste audit and have them create a plan to reduce school waste. Determine what items could be upcycled for outdoor play; think large boxes, plastic reusable containers or cardboard tubes. Add them to your loose parts collection! Educate the school community about waste reduction, how to effectively recycle and what can be reused for play through posters, announcements or even contests! Some exceptional schools have created unique engagement programs, such as awarding the class that produces the least waste with a golden trash can!
Reach out to your custodian, caretaker or lead hand for support with your environmental and play initiatives. They will likely have valuable insight and advice to offer regarding your proposed projects, especially when they relate to the school grounds, water, energy, waste and greening of the school grounds.
Whatever the weather, we encourage you to choose interesting places outdoors to hold your EcoKids Outdoor Play Club meetings! Should the weather truly not permit, the library makes a great meeting spot. Set an agenda for each meeting (e.g. follow up on tasks assigned at the previous meeting, discuss any new campaign or event ideas, etc.)
Active Transportation to and from School
Consider an active transportation campaign to get the school community involved in and aware of environmental efforts! Physical activity before and after school can help students excel in, and focus on, their structured in-class activities. Take active transportation to and from school instead of a car or bus; bike, skateboard, rollerblade, ride a scooter, walk, skip or jog, for example.
Here are some ideas to get your school community involved with active transportation options:
Challenge your school community to walk to school on Wednesdays. Organize students into walking groups or send home information encouraging parents to get involved. Gamify the experience by having students track how many Wednesdays they participate. Whoever participates most frequently could win a prize or award, like the Golden Shoe (an old running shoe spray painted gold), for example!
Walking School Bus
A walking carpool where adults lead the way on foot, picking students up along the way like a bus would! This encourages students to be active together, and also gives older students an opportunity to accompany younger students, nurturing mentorship and leadership.
Active Transportation Blitz
Organize a one week or one month Active Transportation Blitz! Teach students about their carbon footprint and how their actions impact it. Challenge them to reduce their carbon footprint as much as possible! Use a temperature graph (thermometer) to illustrate the school’s transportation carbon footprint before and after the blitz.
Support cycling to and from school by hosting a Bike Clinic to teach parents, teachers and students safe cycling! Local bike shops may be willing to come give basic bike adjustment lessons. Be sure to communicate the positive effects of these improvements to the school community.
Note: Active transportation may not be an accessible option for everyone. Encourage other sustainable and accessible means of transportation, but be mindful and respectful that even these may not be feasible options for some.
Outdoor Clothing and Gear Library
Ensuring all students are adequately prepared for outdoor play, especially in cold and wet weather, will drastically improve the quantity and quality of play at your school. Your school and local community may be willing to donate outdoor clothing and gear that is no longer of use – ask them! Create an area in the school where items are kept for use if needed. Students can then be responsible for going to the library and outfitting themselves if they’re missing an article of clothing or gear. We suggest you collect: rubber boots, hats, gloves, mittens, rain coats, scarves, snow pants, etc. Ski goggles, ear muffs, sleds or other gear could also create a lot of fun. Make it the club’s responsibility to make sure the clothing and gear library remains organized and stocked.
Support from Office Staff
Morning announcements are a great way to share outdoor play and environmental information, trivia, events and campaign information. Once per week, deliver an open invitation to new students and staff to participate in the club’s efforts and activities over the announcements.
Administration staff can support outdoor and green initiatives by helping with paperless attendance taking, electronic school newsletters, promoting activities on the school website and providing assistance with monitoring the loose parts collection.
Build a Club!
Recruit club members! Prepare posters inviting students and school staff to attend an introductory meeting. Once the club has been formed, decide on roles, regular meeting dates and times and a vision for your club’s purpose within the school. Consider having a representative from each grade and collaborating with other existing school clubs or teams.
Be sure to have a note taker at each meeting to keep track of what was discussed, what decisions were made and what tasks were assigned.
Safer School Traffic Zones and Clean Commuting
Consider starting a school traffic management or anti-idling campaign! Before and after school is a great time to engage and educate parents about school traffic management, the effects of idling and the benefits of active transportation. Active transportation (e.g. walking, biking, etc.) promotes a child-friendly, clean environment, as well as physical activity that results in healthier kids. It also cuts down on the number of cars surrounding the school, resulting in fewer traffic-related problems that impact children. Carpooling and bussing could be wonderful, environmentally friendly options for those whose abilities may not allow for active transportation as described above.
Principals and vice-principals play an important role in a school’s play and environmental efforts. School administrators can support the club by attending meetings and creating incentives through rewards programs. One innovative principal even rewarded her students with extra recess time!
Administrators can support teachers by including play and environmental updates on staff meeting agendas and by providing staff with professional development and training days.
In the Staff Room
Let all school staff know about your EcoKids Outdoor Play Club’s efforts, and encourage colleagues to use their expertise and talent to support your initiatives. Share your challenges and successes to encourage collaboration and feedback. You can also put out a call for staff to collect loose parts! You want to ensure that what you collect is safe for all students; a focused collection for kitchen items is ideal if you are interested in creating an outdoor mud kitchen, for example. Collect sturdy metal and plastic pots, pans and utensils. No sharp or breakable objects!
Green your staff room by stocking reusable dishes and mugs for lunches, events and meetings. Encourage staff to lug-a-mug when possible, and make pitchers of water available to discourage bottled water.
School Gardens (for food or play!)
Garden projects offer a lot of fun and learning opportunities for students! Before you start, be sure to obtain your administrator’s approval and go through your school board’s planning process for outdoor greening projects. Encourage student participation in all aspects of the planning, development, fundraising, implementation and maintenance.
Do your research to ensure you select the appropriate type of garden and plants for your geographical zone. Make sure this does not take away a large section of the play area, unless you want to create a garden exclusively for play. Use native and drought-resistant plants, as they are the most environmentally friendly and require the least amount of maintenance. Hardy grasses, shrubs and wildflowers can provide great hiding spots or intimate areas for camps, forts or mud kitchens. And thematically-designed gardens such as pollinator gardens, vegetable gardens, wildflower gardens, herb gardens, etc. are great for the environment and teach kids about food security.
Be sure you develop a maintenance plan that includes the summer months and march break.
Use the outdoors in a playful and engaging way as opposed to a mere reflection of an indoor classroom. Encourage teachers to take their classes outside for at least one class per day and to hold staff meetings outdoors. The outdoors provides many elements that are best explored through full body and sensory engagement.
Don’t have an outdoor classroom at your school? Get creative! Take your class outside to sit on the grass or use mats in a circle.
Celebrate at Assemblies!
School assemblies are an effective way to promote outdoor play and celebrate classes, students or staff that are play champions! If your school gathers on a regular basis, consider incorporating a celebration of different activities happening throughout the year (see our Take Action list). Use this time to communicate and share new play policies or play rules.
For special events, you might consider inviting guest speakers with expert knowledge to inspire students and get them thinking about new ideas. Many community-based environmental organizations will donate their time to support student learning. Ask around within your school community. You may be surprised by who is keen to help!
In the Classroom
If your school has started loose parts play on the grounds, discuss it in the classroom. Bringing play and environmental themes into instructional time can have positive and lasting effects. We encourage teachers and supervisors to explore the ways in which they can promote play and not shut it down (say YES more)! In the OPAL program, we suggest a dialogue consisting of: celebration, information, negotiation. Celebrate the various ways in which the students like to play. Inform them of activities that could be risky and ask them how they may be improved. Negotiate play terms and the division of responsibility on the playground. Three helpful and easy questions for staff and students to remember are: Is what you're doing fun? Is what you're doing inclusive? Is what you're doing safe enough?
Environmental lessons are also a great way to stimulate inquiry and critical thinking, and spark ideas for new environmental projects. EcoKids has several free learning activities that can be easily incorporated into every grade and curriculum strand.
Students can support green initiatives in the classroom by ensuring that lights, computers and interactive whiteboards are turned off when not in use. Waste-free lunch programs can be promoted as a way to reduce overall school waste.
Reducing Single-Use Water Bottles
Kick off a reusable water bottle campaign! Encouraging students to bring their own reusable water bottles to school is still a great way to teach students about the environment. Plastic water bottles often end up in landfills, in oceans or are littered about neighbourhoods. Plastic waste gravely impacts almost all wildlife – and humans!
Did you know that it takes more energy to produce, fill, ship and recycle plastic water bottles than it does to bring public drinking water to your tap? Transportation burns fossil fuels (e.g. coal and oil) and releases CO2 into the air, which contributes to climate change. Start the climate change conversation and have students consider their contribution.
Storage for Loose Parts
Has your school decided to invest in a loose parts collection? If so, you will need an organized place to store these items. Ideally, this would be an outdoor shed or container that is close to a play area. Think sturdy bins with wheels to carry and transport the parts and shelving that kids can reach. You’ll also want some higher shelving to save parts or store them for a specific time. It’s important to have your storage managed and maintained by the club and any staff involved. Some items will be less durable (e.g. cardboard) and will have to be recycled after some use. Check all items for hazards (e.g. nails in wood, wood that needs to be sanded, sharp edges, etc.) If you collect fabric and clothing, they will likely have to be cleaned on occasion. Create a system for orderly take out and put back, and for how the items may be used. This is also a great opportunity for learning; students will take on responsibility and leadership roles to effectively maintain a program that they benefit from.