Wondering how to get your EcoKids Outdoor Play Club started?
Click on areas of the school below in our interactive guide of simple ways you can help your whole school get excited about taking action. Have a say in the culture of outdoor play at your school and increase and enrich your outdoor play time!
Outdoor Play and Learning with Loose Parts
This is one of the main objectives of your club - take your 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. See 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 3 R’s is to complete a waste audit and work toward reducing waste produced within the school. Determine what items might be able to be used for Outdoor Play. These could be large boxes, plastic reusable containers, or cardboard tubes. These items could be added to the school’s Loose Parts Collection. The club could educate the school community about waste reduction, how to effectively recycle, and what can be reused for play, through posters, announcements or event 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. These members of your school community can offer valuable insight and advice regarding your proposed projects, especially when they relate to the school grounds, water, energy, waste and greening of the school ground environment.
EcoKids Outdoor Play Club Meetings
The library is a great place to have meetings, or as an Outdoor Play club, you could also choose interesting places outdoors when the weather permits. As a club, determine which day and time the group will meet. During each meeting, create a list of agenda items that will be discussed. Agenda items should include a follow up on tasks assigned at the previous meeting and any new campaigns or events that can be addressed within the school community.
Library staff can support environmental initiatives by helping with “Monitors Off” campaigns and by encouraging double-sided printing and photocopying.
Active Transportation to School
Active transportation means using physical movement to get around instead of a car or a bus,including: walking, biking, skateboarding, riding a scooter, skipping, rollerblading and jogging.
An active transportation campaign is a great way to get the school community involved in environmental efforts. Here are some ideas to help get your club and school involved with healthier transportation options:
Challenge members of the school community to walk to school every Wednesday. You could organize students into groups to walk together, or send home information encouraging parents to get involved. Students can track how many Wednesdays they walked to school and the student with the most “walks” could win a prize or award like the Golden Shoe (an old running shoe spray painted gold!)
Walking School Bus
This is a walking car-pool that involves adults leading the way on foot picking students up the way a bus normally would! This encourages students to walk together to school and also give older students an opportunity to walk younger students to school, nurturing mentorship and leadership. This can be part of an on-going campaign - even start a walking club so students can always find someone to walk with each and every morning.
Active Transportation Blitz
One-week or one month blitz. As a school, inform students through posters or an assembly about the term “Carbon Footprint” and how big a carbon footprint each person on the planet takes up. Challenge students to reduce their carbon footprint as much as possible! Using a temperature graph (thermometer) you can show comparisons of the school’s transportation carbon footprint before and after the blitz.
Does your school support cycling to school? How about holding a Bike Rodeo or a bike clinic to teach parents, teachers and students safe cycling? Local bike shops may be willing to come to schools and teach kids how to fix and adjust their own bicycles. Tailor your support to the unique qualities of your school and how your improvements will positively affect all students.
Note: Some students may not be able to get to school with active transportation; include these students by encouraging them to participate in sustainable transportation like riding the bus and carpooling!
Outdoor Clothing and Gear Library
You can improve the quantity and quality of play time at your school by ensuring all students are adequately prepared for outdoor play in cold and wet weather. Many students and family members are willing to donate winter clothing that no longer fits and gear that is not being used at home. Create an area in the school where items are kept for student use. Students can then be responsible for going to the library to get anything they may need to go outside. Great items to collect are: rubber boots, hats, gloves, mittens, rain coats, scarves, snow pants. Other fun items could be ski goggles, ear muffs, sleds or other winter gear. The club will have to ensure that 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, event and campaign information with the school community. Invite other students and staff to participate in the club’s efforts and activities.
Administration staff can support outdoor and green initiatives by helping with paperless attendance, electronic school newsletters, promoting activities on the school website and assistance in monitoring the Loose Parts collection.
Getting your EcoKids Outdoor Play Club Started
Recruit staff and students for your club! Prepare posters inviting interested students to attend an introductory meeting. Once the club has been formed, decide on roles, regular meeting times and dates, and a vision for your school. Consider having a representative for each grade or inviting members of other clubs and teams in the school to facilitate collaboration.
Be sure to have someone to take notes at every meeting to keep track of what was discussed, what decisions were made, and what tasks were assigned.
Not only does active transportation promote physical activity for healthier kids, it is also environmentally friendly. Before and after school is a great time to engage parents and educate them about the effects of idling. Consider starting an anti-idling campaign at your school!
There are many options to choose from when commuting to and from school. Consider ways the school community can clean their commute every day. Taking the bus, carpooling and various forms of active transportation are environmentally friendly ways to get to school.
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 within the school. 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 days to receive training about how to effectively bring these efforts into the classroom and broader school community.
In the Staff Room
Let all school staff know about your club’s efforts and encourage colleagues to use their expertise and talent to support your club initiatives. Share your challenges and successes to encourage collaboration among staff.
Green your staff room by using reusable dishes and mugs for lunches, events and meetings. Encourage staff to lug-a-mug when possible and make pitchers of water available instead of bottled water.
School Gardens (for food or play!)
Engaging students with garden projects can be a lot of fun! 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 a little research to ensure that you select an appropriate site for the type of garden you want to plant. Make sure this does not take away a large section of the play area, unless you want to create an area exclusive for play. Consider using native and drought-resistant plants when possible, as they will likely require the least amount of maintenance. These are also great for gardens for play as you could implement different hardy grasses, shrubs and wildflowers that can provide great hiding spots or intimate areas for camps, forts or mud kitchens!
Many schools also choose to have more thematically-designed gardens such as pollinator gardens, vegetable gardens, wildflower gardens, herb gardens, etc.
After you plant, it is important to develop a maintenance plan that includes summer months and march break.
Consider holding staff meetings outdoors and encouraging teachers to take their classes outside for at least one class per day. Set up a schedule for your outdoor classroom so staff will be reminded to book it out during instructional time. Encourage using the outdoors in a playful and engaging way as opposed to a mere reflection of an indoor classroom. 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, use mats in a circle or consider purchasing a class set of lawn chairs.
Celebrate at Assemblies!
School assemblies are an awesome way to promote outdoor play and celebrate individuals or classes doing a great job! If your school gathers on a regular basis, consider incorporating a celebration of different activities happening throughout the year (link to Take Action). Use this time to recognize exceptional staff and students that are helping to create a better play and learning environment, or making your school a greener place!
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 often donate their time and knowledge to support student learning. Ask around within your school community, you may be surprised by who is keen to help!
In the Classroom
Bringing play and environmental themes into instructional time can have lasting and positive effects. If your school has started Loose Parts play on the school grounds, it is a great opportunity to discuss what is happening in the classroom or to make some curriculum connections. Teachers and supervisors can explore more ways in which they can promote the play and not shut it down (say YES more!). To avoid problems, conflicts that arise can be addressed in the classroom. In the OPAL (link) program we suggest a dialogue of Celebrate, Inform, Negotiate. Discuss and celebrate all of the ways in which the students like to play, inform them on activities that could be risky and ask them how they could be improved, negotiate on terms and how everyone will take responsibility on the playground.
Environmental lessons are also a great way to introduce inquiry and critical thinking, and spark ideas for new green projects. Ecokids has several free learning activities that can easily be 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 and monitored within the classroom as a way to reduce overall school waste and support healthy lunch choices.
Reducing Single-use Water Bottles
Reusable Water Bottle Campaign
We have come a long way with reducing plastic water bottles, however encouraging all 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 or littered about neighbourhood streets. This kind of waste can hurt birds, turtles and other wildlife (including humans!).
Did you know 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 (like coal and oil) and releases CO2 into the air, which contributes to climate change. Starting the conversation about climate change around reusing and recycling is a great way to get the school community thinking about their actions and how they impact the environment.
Storage for Loose Parts
If your school is going to invest in a loose parts collection, you will need somewhere to store these items. Ideally this would be a shed or container outdoors, close to a play area. The storage could include sturdy bins with wheels that could carry, and transport, the parts out to the play area. There should be some loose organization for your parts and some shelving that kids can reach, but also higher shelving, in case you want to save parts, or rest them for certain periods. It is very important to have your storage managed and maintained by the club and any teachers or staff involved. Some items will be less durable (such as cardboard) and will have to be recycled after some use. Any items added will also have to be checked for hazards (nails in wood, sharp edges, wood that needs to be sanded etc.) If you invest in fabric and clothing, they will have to be cleaned on occasion. Have a system in place for how these items can be used, taken out at the beginning of the day and also put back in an orderly way at the end of the day. This is a great way for students to take on responsibility and leadership roles to effectively maintain a program that they benefit from.