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School Yard Initiative

Our School Yard Initiative (SYI) aims to create school grounds that inspire more active physical play and enhance learning about nature and the environment.

SYI grants support schools and local governments in constructing outdoor spaces where kids have frequent opportunities for unstructured play and outdoor learning. All school yards must be designed, in part, by the student population to ensure the components constructed are the most appealing and beneficial to the users they will serve. This program emphasizes projects that reach underserved youth and families who may otherwise have limited access to quality parks.

In many cases, schools will replace aging metal play sets, fields of pea gravel and cracking concrete slabs with nature-inspired climbing structures, soft all-weather surfaces, play and learning areas featuring natural materials like four-season sensory gardens, outdoor classrooms, or water features that can simulate floods and erosion. Projects can also include traditional play equipment to complement natural components and provide a variety of play opportunities.

Because all SYI projects are required to be open to the public during non-school hours, the benefits extend far beyond the student body. In some cases, the schools serve a population that is not able to travel to a regional or mountain park. These playgrounds provide free and accessible recreational opportunities that many in the community might not enjoy otherwise. For this reason, community engagement is another important aspect of the planning process. Projects that demonstrate outreach and collaboration with surrounding neighbors, partners, and organizations tend to be more competitive and have great success leveraging GOCO funds in their fundraising efforts.

Beginning in 2016, elementary schools awarded grants can elect to become partner schools in Colorado Parks and Wildlife's Schools and Outdoor Learning Environments program (SOLE). SOLE provides outdoor experiences and teacher training to help students and families connect with nature on-site, and through fourth grade field trips to nearby natural spaces.



Schools can apply if they partner with an eligible local government, such as a city, county or parks and recreation district. These entities can sponsor projects on behalf of ineligible entities like school districts as well as unincorporated cities, towns and community groups.

While most schools are eligible to apply, the majority of successful applicants have Free and Reduced Lunch rates above 40%, and/or propose projects that help overcome significant barriers to youth and families enjoying the outdoors in their communities. We strongly recommend contacting GOCO staff before beginning work on your application to ensure that your project will compete well in the initiative, or to recommend other opportunities.

Charter schools should review the application carefully for requirements regarding land ownership. We are working to better support the growing need from charter schools, though short-term leases can present challenges to participation. 


Download the "First Steps to organizing an SYI project" in the resources section below. SYI applications are made available annually, with awards made in the fall and winter for planning grants. 

Download the 2017 School Yard Initiative application.

Be sure to sign up for GOCO email updates to stay up to date on any program changes. Newsletters are released when new applications are posted. 


  • Match Requirements:  The applicant and partner must provide 25% of the total project cost in matching funds. That 25% must include at least 10% in cash while the remaining 15% can be in-kind contributions, cash, or donations.
  • Project Components: Eligible project components can include traditional playgrounds, natural playgrounds, wild zones, and experiential environmental learning components like gardens, bioswales, wetlands, water features, weather stations and the similar items. Sports fields, tracks and other components for organized play are not eligible for SYI funding.


Top-scoring applications from previous grant cycles:


  • July 11, 2016: Application posted
  • December 19, 2016: Draft applications due (optional)
  • January 10, 2017: Applications due
  • March 23, 2017: Grants awarded at the GOCO Board Meeting in Fort Morgan


Contact Program Coordinator Erika Meyer at 303.226.4512 or emeyer@goco.org