Here are a few of the key lessons I learned in the process....
1/ Creative nature-play doesn't require a grand budget; sometimes the little details can be equally meaningful in the development of will and exploration: the boulder that the big kids play games jumping on and off of; the fallen twigs and leaves that the smaller children are using to make tiny houses; the mud puddles and shrubs in the less-than-perfectly-groomed areas that become the scenes for a thousand different schemes.
2/ Small projects in small steps can lead to bigger things; in order for the school's PAC, administrators and teachers to cope with the weight of change (and the work that falls on their shoulders because of it), it makes sense to do projects in small steps, as an open-ended adaptive cycle based on appreciative inquiry. There is space to reflect after each step, asking what is really working, and how they can build on that.
3/ Take heart -- exciting things are happening! I found a tremendous wealth of really interesting and hopeful projects being done in schoolyards and public parks -- not just far away, but right here in Vancouver!
Here is a list of my favourite links:
Schoolyard Habitat Project Guide - a US publication for replacing lawns with natural elements
Playscapes - a blog about artist-designed and alternative playgrounds
Let the Children Play - a blog especially relevant to ECE and primary grades
Earthbites -- school gardens and education in Vancouver
Fresh Roots Urban Farm Society -- builds and maintains market gardens on VSB lands in partnership with schools
Trout Lake Planning Process documents
Finally, here are my sketches & inspiration boards for a three-phase enhancement of the front yard of the elementary school: