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Placemaking with Children: Getting students involved in the planning process

How students helped reimagine their school grounds at Lord Lansdowne and daVinci School in Toronto.

Students in a classroom working on a project.

Published on April 09, 2019

By: Heidi Campbell, Paula Gallo and Ashlee Cooper

When a proposal was put forward to build a 15 story-high condo tower at an intersection of downtown Toronto that would cast a shadow for a good part of the day on the playground of Lord Lansdowne and daVinci School (LLDV), staff, parents and student knew they had to do something to improve their outdoor space.

That was in August 2013. Fast forward to 2019, and the condo tower is going up and a group of students from grades 3-6 is taking action to engage their whole school community in a conversation focused on the co-creation of their shared space.

Evergreen and the Toronto District School Board (TDSB) are working with a core group of 10 students and four teachers (The School Design Team) to help them transform their school grounds.

Did you know that child participation is a right? According to Article 12 of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, children have the right to give their opinion, and for adults to listen and take their opinions seriously. This is a right that is integral to the participatory design process.


Participatory processes with young people cultivate citizens who know how to work collaboratively to create a more sustainable future. This is the heart of placemaking with children and youth. “ Placemaking with Children and Youth
Placemaking with Children and Youth, Victoria Deer, Louise Chawla, Mara Mintzer

What is Participatory Design?

Using a participatory process means inviting everyone who might have an interest in the school grounds, or may be affected by the changes, to provide input and take part in the development of the design.

The main goal of the project is to support the children in the school to engage in the planning and design of their school grounds, making them more aware of what is happening around them and improving their own ability to understand and act upon it.

Evergreen’s child-led, teacher supported approach to planning and design aims to build capacity with this core group of students and teachers, giving them the skills and confidence to lead a school-wide school ground visioning process. The job of our team is to listen closely, collect ideas and co-create a master plan that captures the needs and interests of all the users.

Children are naturals at co-designing. In the right context and with the right tools, kids are open to unleashing their wildest ideas and dreams to create previously unimagined concepts.

Students draw their ideas on a board.

A look at some of the stages of the process

The Idea Blitz

In December 2018 the School Design Team organized a school-wide Idea Blitz. This was an exciting and creative experience that built on skills learned during a visit to Evergreen Brick Works. The students lead every class and every student through a democratic visioning experience — the first step in the co-creation of the new school grounds. A comprehensive harvesting of data produced creative input into what children and the school community would like to do and see in their space.

One of the clay sculptures students made that shows a zip line and a tree house.

The Design Jam

In January 2019, the School Design Team co-facilitated an arts-based workshop with a small number of student representatives from all classrooms. They used the information and feedback gathered from the Idea Blitz to create drawings, a “dotmocracy”, sculptures and a thorough playground analysis currently informing the detailed design of the master plan.

What we learned

There are meaningful benefits to the whole school with a participatory approach such as…

  • There are more hands to help.
  • The decisions made are representative of the school community and its neighbours.
  • A diverse range of skills will help identify creative and tailored solutions.
  • There is a strong sense of involvement and ownership by participants with a greater likelihood of long-term support and, therefore, success.

The process helps students develop expertise in areas including …

  • Decision-making skills
  • Collaboration
  • Building community
  • Connection to place
  • Confidence
  • Teamwork
  • Empathy
  • Listening skills

A few challenges learned that galvanized the students, engaging their creativity such as …  

  • The upfront planning time can be frustrating for those eager to get their hands in the dirt.
  • It takes time and skill to bring more voices and opinions together.

This ongoing project has involved the entire school population in an iterative and experiential process, with many positive experiences for the students, school board and the wider school community.

It has provided the opportunity for meaningful conversations and decision-making, with the children at the centre of these experiences. They are having fun, learning about the importance of leading conversations, facilitating activities and how to do this in an inclusive and creative way.

We can’t wait to share the end result of this collaborative process! Stay tuned for more. Want to learn more about Evergreen's work in projects like this? Contact Nicole McLaughlin at