North Haven Learning Grounds

The Cause

The North Haven Learning Grounds is a schoolyard naturalization project located at the heart of our community at North Haven School. The project originated with school staff, but has been shaped by students (Grades K to 6). Visioning for the project had students consider “what kind of world do you want?” Students have actively participated in planning the North Haven Learning Grounds, making observations of the school grounds, creating project designs, performing civic engagement through presentations and voting, and applying mathematical knowledge to budget aspects of the project. Students also used resources from the Kainai First Nation to learn about plant species adapted to local conditions. Student consultation will continue with project design.

Project coordination and funding is driven by the North Haven Parent Association, a registered non-profit, volunteer based organization.

North Haven Learning Grounds goals:
- create a space for outdoor learning, exploration through play, and gathering
- increase biodiversity and natural habitat
- improve mobility options
- respond to the Truth and Reconciliation Calls to Action

Key elements of the Learning Grounds design which support project goals include:
- outdoor classroom and natural amphitheater as a space to gather and learn
- native species to increase biodiversity
- creation of shade to cool site users
- accessible pathways to improve mobility options
- spaces to play and to reflect for emotional and physical wellbeing
- Truth and Reconciliation connections for intercultural understanding

The existing North Haven School yard is grassed except for asphalt next to the school building, and pea gravel beneath play equipment. There are no trees, shrubs, or opportunities for shade in areas accessible during outdoor breaks, except in the shadow of the school building. Anecdotally, the schoolyard and playground are not used on very hot summer days. The Learning Grounds will create shade, providing additional opportunities for use in hot weather.

Two sets of stairs on grassy slopes connect the yard and play structures to the school building, with uneven sloping ground to the yard entry gate. This slope limits access for those with mobility challenges including students, community members, visiting grandparents, or those pushing strollers. Accessible pathways will connect the school building with play and gathering areas allowing use of the space regardless of mobility.

Who Will it Benefit?

The project’s benefit will be felt most directly by the students at North Haven School (K–6) through opportunities for hands-on learning, exploration through play and eventually, the creation of shade in the schoolyard. Thirty percent of our students are accommodated for emotional/behavioural, medical, and learning disabilities. Each of these students benefits from adjustments to their environment to support optimal learning. In addition, we have a specialized program that supports students with severe externalizing behaviors and one that supports mild to moderate cognitive delays. Accommodated students and their families realize more barriers to accessing natural spaces, the Learning Grounds will provide a familiar location for student and family use.

The redevelopment of this underused grassed area into a biodiverse natural play site will be shared by the broader school community, including teachers and student families, as well as the residents of the neighbourhood, all of whom can use the space. With the inclusion of accessible pathways to improve mobility options, we expect increased use by those with mobility challenges, seniors, and those pushing strollers.

Based on 2016 Canada Census data, North Haven Community members include twice the typical population of seniors at 20%, versus 10% which is the average for Calgary. North Haven also includes a proportionally higher number of lone parent families, Black residents, and seniors than is typical for Calgary. Our community includes visible minorities, refugees, and indigenous members, all of whom can experience barriers to accessing natural spaces.

Through partnerships with the North Haven Community Association, we expect that Community programming or events may use the Learning Grounds in the future, including “Kids in the Haven,” a community program for adolescents that meets regularly throughout the year.