May Day Celebrations – Involve the Children!

28 April 2010 · 2 comments

in Developing School Grounds & Outdoor Spaces

I’m going to offer an alternative May Day celebration. Originally I intended to blog about outdoor dancing and the joys of Morris dancing, Maypole dancing and other forms of spring celebrations.

However May Day is a traditional holiday. In some countries it is called Labour Day. In other places it’s known as International Workers Day. People have often used May Day as a time for a political protest. With elections looming in the UK on 6th May in a difficult economic climate, I thought this would be a timely reminder to remember children’s voices. They need to be listened to. They have a right to be consulted and involved in activities and decisions that affect them.

Getting children outdoors is not high on the political agenda. In fact the only reference to education is in terms of public spending cuts. Environmental issues have been completely ignored too. So those of us in education need to perhaps work harder than ever to ensure that children are given a proper hearing.

This was the “Chill Out Zone” before a Primary 5 class got to work!
I’ve been doing a lot of work recently in schools and delivering training to staff about involving children in developing their school grounds. The trick here is to get children to  think about what they want to do outside, rather than what they want to have. After all, many children think Disneyland in their grounds would be fabulous!

Find out where children play and the resources they use.  Put together a list of possible changes and use a participative system to decide what finally happens. There’s a handy resource called Measuring Success. This provides more than 20 different consultation and evaluation strategies for using with children of all ages.

When it comes to designing the outdoor area or school grounds, the children can be very involved in this. There is a tried and tested approach called Planning for Real® which involves children using gym equipment and other resources used to plan in situ in the area where changes are going to be made. For example, a border for a wildflower garden can be represented by a skipping rope. Chairs can be put in places to represent seating arrangements. Cones can be used to show where trees are to be planted. For pre-schoolers, it’s helpful to have a child-adult ratio of around 1 to 3 so it’s a great opportunity to involve parents or older children.

The implementation phase can be undertaken by a range of people. However, children can still be involved. Putting up outdoor art work or helping a willow worker create a willow structure are such examples.

The maintenance of new features can be built into the school calendar so that the children have the opportunity do look after the outdoor area and care for it. This can include watering schedules, tidying up leaves, composting duties, etc. The more the children can do, the better. After all it’s their play space!

So this May Day, go out and play. Smell the flowers, feel the mud between your toes, wash your face in the morning dew and keep involving our youngest citizens in make outdoor areas their special place.

Six months later. The children were fully involved in the planning, designing and creating this area. The funding came from an RBS Supergrounds Award in 2008-09.
If you live in the UK, join Learning Through Landscapes (England & Wales) or Grounds for Learning (Scotland). These school grounds charities have trained professionals, published resources and support materials all geared towards active involvement of children in the process. They run great courses too!

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{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Debi April 29, 2010 at 04:04

I’ll be posting later this week about a very similar lesson I learned in my own backyard — let the kids help plan the space & it becomes magical. This is a great lesson for parents & educators alike.


CreativeSTAR April 29, 2010 at 19:03

Great – Thanks for letting me know Debi – I’ll look forward to reading it.


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