Oregano Pesto! How one D.C. school is using its green schoolyard

Engineering in the sand pit.jpeg

Nancy Striniste, founder and principal designer at Earlyspace, is a landscape designer and former teacher. In the guest blog below, she gives us a peek into how one public charter school is using their green schoolyard.


Yesterday I got to visit Creative Minds International (CMI), a public charter school in Washington, D.C. The school serves about 500 students from preschool to middle school.  It's a uniquely beautiful and historic site in the city. The one-acre playground sits on the grounds of the Armed Forces retirement home. The school's neighbor is Lincoln's Cottage, which was the summer white house for Abraham Lincoln, his wife Mary Todd, and his young son, Tad. It's where Lincoln wrote the Emancipation Proclamation, and where Tad played with ponies and peacocks as a child.

The playground, which I designed, was built over the last two summers. On the schoolyard is an assortment of active natural play elements including a constructed hill with a slide on one side and a tunnel through the middle. There are logs for climbing and balancing, loose parts for building, a big sand and water area, and a whole bunch of different kinds of swings. A sensory trail leads children around the perimeter of the space. There are also several outdoor classrooms including an art studio, a theater, and an edible garden with an adjacent classroom area. 

I visited the space for the first time since last fall and got to meet the new garden teachers from Urban Adventure Squad, a D.C.-based nonprofit. Watch the videos below to hear how teachers and students are using their new green schoolyard for play, projects, and lessons!

From cooking to science class - Urban Adventure Squad describes different ways they are using the garden to engage students of all ages: https://vimeo.com/271388618?utm_source=email&utm_medium=vimeo-cliptranscode-201504&utm_campaign=29220

Listen and watch as a third-grade teacher shares the ways her students use the space, while they play in the background. Includes a great panorama of what the playground actually looks like: https://vimeo.com/271386549?utm_source=email&utm_medium=vimeo-cliptranscode-201504&utm_campaign=29220

 Sixth graders examining newly planted vining vegetables.

Sixth graders examining newly planted vining vegetables.

 A bead project in the art studio.

A bead project in the art studio.

Announcing GSA's New Expanded Activity Guide for Schools

ISGM-GSA-2Covers_2018s.png

We are very excited to present the 2018 Living Schoolyard Activity Guide – United States Edition. This new publication is an expanded version of the school ground Activity Guide we have been producing over the last few years. It is designed to help schools use their grounds to the fullest during the month of May (for International School Grounds Month and Living Schoolyards Month) and year round!

The guides are appropriate for ages 3-18 and are full of cross-curricular activities that enhance and promote play, learning, health, outdoor connections, and community. They also contain great background information on the green schoolyards movement, the benefits of taking kids outside, and how we are working to shift the norm of how school grounds are designed and used. 

We would like to extend a heartfelt thank you to all of our authors who contributed this year and in the past. The Activity Guides would not have been possible without their fantastic written contributions and the generosity of their organizations in sharing their work. We are grateful for the time and energy they put into their submissions and for their efforts to support this movement.

With our colleagues at the International School Grounds Alliance, we also produced a 2018 edition of the companion book, the International School Grounds Month Activity Guide. Together, the two Guides now include a total of 235 activities written by 187 organizations in 27 countries. (Did you know you had that many like-minded colleagues? It’s amazing!) All of the activities in both Guides are intended for use anywhere in the world, so we encourage you and your community to share the links for both of these free books!

 THE MAP ABOVE SHOWS THE FANTASTIC GEOGRAPHIC DIVERSITY OF THE AUTHOR-ORGANIZATIONS THAT CONTRIBUTED IDEAS TO THIS PUBLICATION SERIES. ORGANIZATIONS THAT PARTICIPATED IN THE  LIVING SCHOOLYARD ACTIVITY GUIDE  ARE SHOWN WITH YELLOW MARKERS. ORGANIZATIONS THAT CONTRIBUTED TO THE  INTERNATIONAL SCHOOL GROUNDS MONTH ACTIVITY GUIDE  ARE SHOWN WITH RED MARKERS. 

THE MAP ABOVE SHOWS THE FANTASTIC GEOGRAPHIC DIVERSITY OF THE AUTHOR-ORGANIZATIONS THAT CONTRIBUTED IDEAS TO THIS PUBLICATION SERIES. ORGANIZATIONS THAT PARTICIPATED IN THE LIVING SCHOOLYARD ACTIVITY GUIDE ARE SHOWN WITH YELLOW MARKERS. ORGANIZATIONS THAT CONTRIBUTED TO THE INTERNATIONAL SCHOOL GROUNDS MONTH ACTIVITY GUIDE ARE SHOWN WITH RED MARKERS. 

Why 21st Century Children Need Nature

Why 21st Century Children Need Nature

Green Schoolyards America and The Presidio Trust invite you to join us for an inspiring afternoon presentation and discussion with our visiting keynote speaker, Prof. David Sobel, who will talk about the importance of nature play for 21st century children.

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

Networking Reception, 4:00 - 4:30 pm  |  Presentation, 4:30 - 6:00 pm
The Presidio  |  Observation Post  |  211 Lincoln Blvd  |  San Francisco, CA 

Read More

Join us in Sacramento on May 18th!

The State Water Resources Control Board is hosting the STORMS Seminar Series to share the latest reports, studies, and policies in the world of stormwater to an audience of both governmental and public interests, as a way to support their mission of promoting stormwater as a valuable resource.

The next STORMS Seminar Series event, Living Schoolyards for Stormwater Management, will be hosted at the CalEPA Building (1001 I Street) on Wednesday, May 18th, 10 am to noon. 

Read More

Green Schoolyards America featured in the Mountain View Voice!

Green Schoolyards America featured in the Mountain View Voice!

Sharon Danks, Green Schoolyards America’s CEO, was honored to speak with the Mountain View Whisman School District’s school board at their meeting this month. Her presentation described the benefits of greening school grounds for both children and the local environment, and generated a lively dialogue. The Mountain View Voice published an article reporting on the event:

Read More

A Win for Sustainable Schools as part of California Climate Investment Plan

A Win for Sustainable Schools as part of California Climate Investment Plan

California’s climate action law (AB32) includes an innovative market-based mechanism to lower greenhouse gas emissions called “cap and trade.” The California Air Resources Board, in collaboration with a number of state agencies, is organizing investment strategies for the next three years. In the first draft investment plan, schools were not included as investment priorities and were not eligible for most of the funding programs.

Today, December 17th, Katrina Ortiz from Green Schoolyards America and Deborah Moore from Green Schools Initiative spoke at the California Air Resources Board’s public hearing about their 2016-19 second draft investment plan. 

Read More

Upcoming Midwest Activity Guide

Upcoming Midwest Activity Guide

We’re happy to report that we now have 26 Midwest organizations on board to contribute activities to the 2016 Living Schoolyard Activity Guide - Midwest Edition!

We’re glad that so many amazing organizations from across Wisconsin, Illinois, Michigan, Indiana, Ohio and Iowa have joined us so far. We’re looking forward to including more voices in the coming weeks!

As you may have heard, we’re in the midst of raising funds to make sure we are able to complete this guide—and we need your help! 

Read More

Research Pitch Champion!

From left to right: Bill Orr (Executive Director, CHPS), Sharon Danks (CEO, Green Schoolyards America), Bevin Ashenmiller (Associate Professor, Occidental College), Nate Allen (Center for Green Schools, U.S. Green Building Council) 

Great news! We were awarded a grant for our new research project to study the costs and benefits of city-wide green schoolyard programs! 

Green Schoolyards America’s CEO, Sharon Danks, and our partner, Prof. Bevin Ashenmiller (Occidental College) participated in a competitive research pitch in front of a live audience at the Research Summit on Childhood Health and School Buildings in Washington, DC last week—and WE WON! The event was hosted by the US Green Building Council, the Collaborative for High Performance Schools and the American Institute of Architects as part of their Green Build conference. We are honored to be selected and look forward to beginning our work soon. 

California’s Brand New Environmental Literacy Initiative!

California’s Brand New Environmental Literacy Initiative!

Green Schoolyards America is proud to announce California’s Environmental Literacy Plan! Yesterday, our CEO Sharon Danks attended the launch event in San Francisco. Legislators and educators from across the state came out to celebrate.

Sharon was on the Environmental Literacy Task Force that wrote the report, along with 46 other experts in the green school grounds and environmental education fields. This document emphasizes the importance of teaching kids about the world they live in and getting hands on experience in outdoor settings. Not only does getting outside support physical and mental health, it teaches us about the natural systems that support our everyday lives. 

Read More

Inspiring School Grounds Conference coming up in September!

Join us in Bali (September 28th - 30th, 2015) for the 4th International School Grounds Conference - the first of its kind to be held in AustralAsia. 

Visionary leaders of the school ground movement from Australia, New Zealand, Asia, Europe and North America will share their experiences, case studies and best practices. Participate in this exciting conference to learn more about cutting edge school grounds, meet like-minded colleagues and organizations from around the world, share ideas, tour fantastic local school grounds and be inspired to bring new ideas to your own community.

Learn more here.

Schoolyard Habitat Workshops for Teachers in San Diego

Schoolyard Habitat Workshops for Teachers in San Diego

Thanks to a grant from San Diego Gas & Electric (SDGE),SD Children and Nature, SD Master Gardeners and Rooted In Place Landscape Architecture and Consulting partnered to host two training workshops on Creating Schoolyard Habitats for Play and Learning. Over 50 teachers attended the workshops to learn about designing and utilizing schoolyard wildlife habitats. Three more workshops will be offered in the Fall. 

The workshops took place at San Diego Botanical Garden, Encinitas, CA and the Cuyamaca Water Conservation Garden.

Read More

Spring Valley Elementary Builds Raised Garden Beds!

Green Schoolyards America is proud to feature Living Schoolyard Month celebrations that were held in May across the state of California. If you celebrated and would like to be featured here, send photos and a brief description to info (at) greenschoolyards (dot) org.  —GSA

Spring Valley community members and students ended the year by adding raised vegetable beds to their living schoolyard.

See more information on Spring Valley’s blog.


Contributed by Rachel Pringle, Senior Director of Programs, Education Outside
Photos by Taryn Colonnese, Education Outside Corps Member

San Francisco, CA