Sustainability of playgrounds

December 2022
We are launching a new research project supported by Western University’s pilot program Thinking Globally, Acting Locally

The research objectives are to:

(1) investigate the environmental potential of playgrounds for building sustainable communities

(2) develop an interdisciplinary experiential learning program that allows post-secondary students to engage in local initiatives that have global impact

(3) develop a rich data set that can be used by the local partner to develop climate-focused early-years pedagogies; and

(4) mobilize knowledge from the project through academic, artistic, professional audiences.

Playing for Keeps is an interdisciplinary project that investigates sustainability potential of playgrounds. While much has been written (primarily from developmental perspective) about the vital role play and playgrounds play in children’s lives, little has been said about playgrounds’ broader effects for sustainability. Thus, the project asks:

How can playgrounds contribute to well-being of people, function as sustainable, resilient, safe and inclusive environments, and contribute to local-level climate solutions?

And, more importantly (and pedagogically-significant), What are we sustaining when we are considering sustainability of playgrounds?


To achieve these objectives, we assembled an interdisciplinary core team of three students with experience and interest in climate action and equity research, a local partner organization with broad historical ties to the London community, and a faculty member with expertise in education and climate-crisis. 

The project’s community partner is London Bridge Childcare Services, a network of 15 Early Childhood Learning Centres and after-school programs based in London, Ontario. As an organization, they are committed to actively engaging in innovative pedagogical practices that orient toward ethical living in an ecologically and socially just more-than-human world.

The Academic Advisor is Dr. Veronica Pacini-Ketchabaw, a Professor of Early Childhood Education (“ECE”) in the Faculty of Education and Director of the Interdisciplinary Centre for Research in Curriculum.  Her SSHRC-funded research explores climate change pedagogies with children, and children’s relations with waste and materials in the global North and global South

The project core team will assemble and lead interdisciplinary teams comprised of Western students, local artists and environmental professionals (eg.: landscape architects, environmental/playground designers, ecologist) in planning and performing a series of research/experimentation sessions (“intensives”) at outdoor play spaces of six childcare locations across London.

Invited student researchers will represent various Western departments, including science and art disciplines. Through intensives, the teams will collaborate with the educators and pedagogists of London Bridge in generating an array of ideas, both scientific and artistic, about sustainability potential of everyday outdoor places and our relationship with them.

During these intensive multidisciplinary interventions, the project teams will consider how playgrounds can function not only as spaces for young children’s play and learning, but also as vital sites of animal and plant habitat, placemaking for local communities, and connection points to pedagogical conversations around climate change, environment, and settler relationships with place. An array of ideas generated by students, artists, ecological professionals, and early childhood educators and pedagogists, as they are considering these areas, will be curated into a published project Catalogue.

Core search team also includes:

Cynthia Lê is pursuing Bachelor of Music Education and is the President of Music Education Students Association. A recipient of numerous scholarships, Cynthia has participated in several research projects, most recent being investigation into equity, diversity, inclusion and de-colonization at four faculties of music at Canadian universities.

Eva Deligiannis is a Neuroscience undergraduate student. A Research Assistant at Culham Lab (affiliate of Brain and Mind Institute and Department of Psychology at Western), Eva is also the Chair of Climate Crisis Coalition UWO. 

Tatiana Zakharova-Goodman is a playground designer and PhD candidate at the Faculty of Education. Building on her background in landscape architecture, Tatiana thinks at the intersection of pedagogy and design, as she works to explore potentialities of playgrounds for fostering reciprocity, attentiveness, and care. She has participated and lead research projects involving young children, environments and climate-focused pedagogies. Her doctoral project culminated in the construction of a playground at a childcare centre in Southwestern Ontario based on multi-year pedagogical work with educators and children.

Taking inspiration from the 2022 book Reactivating Elements (Editors: Dimitris Papadopoulos, María Puig de la Bellacasa, Natasha Myers), the project is organized around six elements that shape ecologies of playground spaces:







March 2023: The project is currently in the recruitment stage