The Case for Green Schoolyards

Curated by Jaime Zaplatosch

Jaime Zaplatosch is the Director of Green Schoolyards for Healthy Communities with the Children & Nature Network. The Children and Nature Network describes green schoolyards as multifunctional school grounds, designed by and for the entire school community, that include places for students, teachers, parents, and community members to play, learn, explore and grow. During out-of-school time, these schoolyards are ideally available for community use and act like parks. Green schoolyard features can include outdoor classrooms, native and pollinator gardens, stormwater capture, traditional play equipment, nature play areas, edible gardens, trails, trees, and shrubs.

Research shows that spending regular time in safe natural areas is associated with a variety of benefits for physical health, mental health, cognitive function, social emotional functioning, and additional personal benefits. Below are examples of published research and real schoolyards with measured benefits.

  1. Case Study Brief

    Brent Elementary-After

    Brent Elementary Schoolyard Greening: Phase 1

    Washington, District of Columbia

    “This project represents the only elementary school to have achieved certification in the SITES Pilot Program. As a community- and school-led initiative, this project was able to redefine the school’s identity. By replacing lawn and asphalt with outdoor classrooms, rain gardens, butterfly gardens and permeable pavement, this schoolyard was able to provide numerous environmental benefits as well as meet its goals of lowering maintenance costs and extending learning opportunities outside of the building.”
  2. Case Study Brief


    Buffalo Public School #305 McKinley High School

    Buffalo, New York

    “Joy Kuebler, ASLA, founded Joy Kuebler Landscape Architect in 2003 to focus on the human experience in the landscape, working to improve the quality of life for people through the power of the environment surrounding them. She has a particular interest in designing unique spaces that shape her region and area neighborhoods and in engaging with the people for whom she designs. McKinley High School is an example of her commitment to creating sustainable, educational landscapes. ”
  3. Case Study Brief


    Sidwell Friends Middle School

    Washington, District of Columbia

    “Green schoolyards can lead the way in sustainability for their communities. With a design guided by Quaker philosophy, this schoolyard is home to Washington, D.C.'s first constructed wetland, which treats around 3,000 gallons of wastewater per day. The school utilizes a closed-loop wastewater system that is used to maintain a biology study pond and to flush toilets while greatly reducing potable water use. ”
  4. Case Study Brief

    Chester Arthur Schoolyard

    Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

    “This schoolyard transformation dramatically increased student activity levels during recess and invited more community use after school hours, as evidenced through direct observation using SOPLAY and SOPARC protocols. The previously asphalt space within a dense residential neighborhood in Philadelphia was transformed to consolidate parking, provide more green space, and offer more stimulating topography with a large play berm. ”
  5. Benefits Toolkit

    “This direct observation tool is useful in evaluating the impacts of green schoolyards on physical activity in children. It provides protocols and methods for direct observation and data collection along with a user guide and training materials. ”
  6. Case Study Brief


    The Willow School

    Gladstone, New Jersey

    “The schoolyard at this elementary school in rural New Jersey aims to teach students about the importance of protecting and conserving ecological resources and engages all 250 students in the school's garden throughout the year. In a survey, Willow School students demonstrated a high level of knowledge regarding environmentally-friendly features of green buildings and landscapes. ”

Active living, Play, Mental wellness, Learning landscapes

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