School Grounds TRAnSfoRmAtiOn  
  Back to Starting  


Back Forward

Surveying people

The importance of surveying people as a way of gaining support for your project cannot be over-emphasized. It is the ONLY way to find out how people feel about the grounds and to ask them for their ideas in an equitable and coordinated way.

You will need to brainstorm with students and survey teachers, parents, caretaking and support staff, neighbours and local business and community groups.

The surveying process helps to promote your project and it gives people the chance to:

  • contribute their ideas for redesigning the grounds
  • take a good look at their site
  • recognize the need for improvement
  • suggest possible solutions to problems
  • express their concerns
  • think about using the grounds as a hands-on educational resource

The surveying process helps to identify problems such as:

  • lack of shade
  • poor drainage
  • inadequate or non-existent play or social spaces
  • vandalism
  • bullying
  • undesirable use of grounds after hours
  • inequitable division of play structures between grades
  • noise
  • lack of quiet spaces
  • unsightly views
  • cracked paving
  • broken sports equipment
  • blocked or improper placement of catchment basins
  • lack of shelter from cold Winter winds
  • damaged or broken elements such as fencing, gates and signs

Skills Identification

Doing a Skills Identification survey can be very useful. You will need volunteers for all kinds of jobs, but many people do not immediately see how they can help with school grounds projects unless they have a knowledge of gardening. Assume that everyone has a valuable skill to contribute. Schools often ask people to volunteer for grounds projects, but neglect to identify the tasks required. You will find an increase in the number of volunteers if you let people know exactly what needs to be done. The results of this survey will enable your school to target people with the skills needed for specific jobs; for example, those with carpentry skills for building wooden planters or seating, or those with proposal-writing skills for fundraising.

Surveying the grounds

Surveying different aspects of the grounds is essential for project planning.

Many surveying activities can be easily integrated into the curriculum. For example, measuring the site and built structures, map-making, finding out the locations of services and utilities, identifying site conditions and uses, measuring areas of shade and creating an inventory of the wildlife that currently exists on the grounds.
Click to enlarge
Photo: Ruth Doucette
Students can measure the areas of the grounds covered by buildings and asphalt and other hard surfaces, calculate how much land is devoted to grass, trees, flower beds and wildlife habitat and compare and record their findings.
In future years as the project evolves, new students can refer to the original findings, redo the grounds survey, and make their own comparisons, assess the changes and draw conclusions.

Site use

The preliminary evaluation of the site should include all of the demands placed upon it throughout the year. Record the needs and uses, specific maintenance requirements and unusual features, and problems such as lack of shade, poor drainage, litter, vandalism and unwelcome after-hours activities.


It is both educational and useful to do a biodiversity survey before you make any changes to the grounds. Repeating the survey every season of the year on an annual basis will allow students to assess how the project is enhancing habitat for wildlife locally over time.

Barren school grounds are a draw for species such as sparrows, gulls, starlings, pigeons and wasps that scavenge for discarded food and the sugary leftovers on candy wrappers, juice boxes and pop cans. Students often say that waste is thrown down because the schoolyard is ugly and nobody cares about it. They understand that scavengers are drawn by waste food and that there is nothing in the yard to attract "nice" wildlife. Involving the students in creating shaded social spaces and greening the grounds with trees, shrubs, wildflower gardens, vines and ground covers starts to change their attitude and behaviour. Littering declines, and a greater variety of creatures gradually replaces the scavenging species.

You can introduce students to a wide variety of living organisms and their interactions within the environment through activities that involve identifying and classifying the flora and fauna on your grounds.

Showing that you are making a difference through the results of the biodiversity survey can help you secure funding for additional projects.


Click to enlarge

An audit of the amount and location of the shade in the school yard helps to focus attention on the need to shade play and social spaces. It is useful for determining where to place shade trees, vines and sun shelters such as gazebos, arbours and trellises.

Students can measure the area of the shade in the schoolyard at intervals throughout the year. The shade should be measured early in the morning, at noon and towards the end of the school day. Finding out where the existing shade is located and where additional shade is needed to protect children from the sun is an important planning exercise.

Sample people and grounds surveys

Sample surveys can be found here.

[ Back to top ]