School Grounds TRAnSfoRmAtiOn  
  Back to Types of Projects  


Back Forward

Image Gallery

Click here to view images of pavement and wall markings.

Child-friendly environments

Most school buildings, schoolyard surfaces, fencing and gateways are dull and institutional in appearance. There are often large expanses of cracked, grey paving and the worn grass is often the only vegetation in the schoolyard. There is hardly ever any relief from the hard-edged surfaces of concrete, brick, glass, metal, plastic and asphalt. The paint on pavement games such as four square and hopscotch is generally faded or worn away altogether. The play structure is usually the only place that provides a patch of bright colours. Both school buildings and their grounds are often inappropriate places for children who are developing play and social skills. How can it be expected that young people develop a respect for human-made and natural environments in an environment that does not reflect a recognition of their needs or the need to protect the natural world?

The majority of classrooms are colourful and some schools make an effort to brighten the corridors with children's artwork. However, the outdoor environments where children spend so much time are dull and uninteresting in comparison.

The value of comfortable, inspirational classrooms has been recognized for a long time but the importance of developing equally interesting outdoor spaces has been neglected.

Brightening the schoolyard

There are many opportunities on the school grounds for adding colour and interesting play environments. Murals can be painted directly on the walls where school boards permit, or painted on plywood and attached to walls and fences.

Paving can also be brightened by painting a variety of board games, puzzles, mazes and number games. Board games can include chess, checkers, tic tac toe and snakes and ladders. Children have fun following number and letter snakes, playing with hundred squares, inventing their own games with magic circles or simply following wiggly lines or pathways of human or animal footprints. Students can design mazes in the math class to be painted on asphalt. Patterns, rainbows and other designs for painting on paving can also be created by children in the classroom.

Child-scale themes for quiet, imaginative play can also be painted on walls. Play houses are often incorporated into the play structure; however, "playing house" is incompatible with other kinds of play structure activities. During surveys, children frequently ask for a separate play house or a collection of play houses so that they can "play village". The theme of murals painted on walls around play house spaces could be one that depicted parts of the community such as streets, shops, theatres, etc. as well as natural elements such as woods, hills, waterways, gardens, local wildlife, etc. A small village of play houses could have pathways painted between them. Where houses are built on soil instead of asphalt, each one could have a garden with trees planted to shade the "village".

There are endless possibilities for making appropriate, child-scale environments. Putting yourself in children's shoes, getting inside their heads and seeing with their eyes will help you transform their play and social spaces with them into ones that are more child-friendly.

Students have many creative ideas for transforming grey, uninteresting asphalt into colourful designs, maps, games and mazes. Asking all the classes in the school to submit suggestions for pavement and wall markings, having students vote on the ideas and then holding a design contest can be an interesting school project.

Colouring pavement and walls


Murals: Try to find a location that is not exposed to the sun for long periods of time because colours fade in strong sunlight and ultra-violet light weakens the paint. The colours and the paint will last longer when applied to an east- or north-facing wall.

Paving When painting on concrete or asphalt, try to choose a area that is as smooth as possible. If the surface is crumbly and has cracks or depressions with exposed soil, paint will not stick to it for long. The location of your pavement painting should also be chosen with care to avoid placing it where there is heavy foot traffic which will wear out the paint faster.

Paint Use a good UV resistant latex topcoat. Do not seal the latex because it needs to breathe. If you use a primer under the topcoat, it should also be of latex because oil paint does not last as long on asphalt. The white and yellow latex paint used for roadway markings is also used to paint lines for hopscotch, four square and sports areas in schoolyards. Adding tints to traffic paint results in pastel shades only.


When you are ready to start transferring your design onto the paving, it is important to prepare the surface properly to make sure that the paint will adhere to the asphalt.

Thorough surface preparation is the key to successful outdoor painting projects. Paint will not adhere to dirty, crumbling or oily surfaces. The better the surface preparation, the longer the paint will last.

Start by preparing both masonry and asphalt surfaces with a strong pressure wash. Try asking your local fire department for assistance. Make sure that all surface dirt is removed from the area to be painted and also from the area around it.

It is a good idea to sweep up any dust and dirt that could get blown back onto the prepared painting area.

Should there be any stains and marks from unknown substances remaining on the asphalt after washing, you can scrub the spots with a solution of:

  • 200 grams of tri-sodium phosphate (TSP)
  • 4 litres of water

Scrub small areas of the surface at a time and rinse immediately. Do not allow the TSP to dry. When the stained areas have been scrubbed and rinsed, leave to dry.

Due to the drying time of paint, the newly-painted area should be protected by cordoning it off from foot traffic.

The approximate drying times are:

Vertical surface: 24 hours
Horizontal surface: 48 hours


Outline your design using masking tape. You can use chalk, but the chalk markings must remain outside the area to be painted because paint will not stick to chalk. For repeat patterns, a template can be made. Adults and older children can outline the designs and the younger children can fill in the colour.

Your designs will last longer if you paint on two coats. Depending on the condition of the asphalt and the amount of use your design receives, you may need to touch up the paint every year.

Supervision is essential otherwise this "organized graffiti" project may spill over beyond the confines of the intended design. Pavement painting works best with small groups of children at a time.


The pavement paintings should be allowed to dry for at least 24 hours before the children can play on them.


  • Good UV-resistant paints such as exterior velvet and eggshell latex or traffic paint
  • Paint brushes of different sizes (1-inch for finer details; 2-3 inches for blocking in larger areas of colour)
  • Buckets of water to rinse the brushes
  • Masking tape, chalk, card for making templates
  • Pressure hose
  • Scrubbing brushes
  • Stiff sweeping brooms
  • Materials to cordon off the painting area


  • Use a good, UV resistant latex topcoat
  • Paint when the temperature is 15-25 C
  • Paint when the humidity is low to moderate
  • Paint on a windless day
  • Protect newly-painted areas


  • Avoid using oil-based paint
  • Avoid gloss or semi-gloss paint
  • Avoid painting on a windy day
  • Avoid painting in direct sunlight
  • Do not seal latex paint - it needs to breathe

Some ideas for wall and pavement painting


  • Murals (preferably designed with children)
  • Games, game targets
  • Measuring tape for children to measure their growth
  • Graffiti mural
  • Number and letter snakes
  • Theme murals to create backdrops for imaginary games
  • Biodiversity mural that can be added to as biodiversity increases in the yard
  • Mural showing tree species in the yard
  • World map showing countries where children in the school come from
  • Map of Canada showing rivers, mountains, lakes, Arctic Circle
  • Native peoples map of Canada
  • Map of exploration and trading routes in Canada


  • Mazes
  • Board games such as snakes and ladders, tic-tac-toe, chess, checkers
  • Ponds with lily pads for hopping games
  • River/stream with paintings of aquatic life
  • Rainbows, suns, planets, moons, stars
  • 100 square (block of numbers 1-100)
  • Number snakes, letter snakes
  • Rail tracks
  • Chalk gallery
  • Winding lines, circles
  • Pawprints, footprints
  • Maps, political, geographic with features such as rivers, mountain ranges, ice caps, etc., vegetation maps showing forests, tundra, prairies, desserts, etc. of Canada, the world and other countries

[ Back to top ]