Friday, November 23, 2012

Why isn’t every schoolyard “green”?

Think of the school yard nearest where you live. There’s probably a barren grass field with a soccer nets at either end, and a baseball diamond in one corner. Perhaps there’s a playground. And maybe a large concrete area with a basketball net.

This describes nearly all the schools I can think of, including the one down the street from my house. It’s the norm. But why?

There’s a growing trend across the country to “green” some school yards. And with good reason. While it’s good for children to be outside (see my previous post), the barren, institution-like grounds of traditional school yards are not the best play setting. Green school yards, by contrast, incorporate diverse aspects, ranging from food and wildflower gardens to ponds and treed spaces.

And recent studies reveal that these types of natural spaces are much better for the children who play there compared with more conventional school grounds.

In green school yards, children tend to:
  • be more physically active
  • think more creatively
  • understand where their food comes from
  • play more cooperatively, collaboratively and respectfully
  • overlook habitual divisions such as gender, socio-economic status, physical ability and ethnicity

Disabled children are more likely to be included in play in green spaces. Children from poor, middle class and wealthy backgrounds are more likely to play together. Boys and girls are more likely to play together. And kids from various ethnic backgrounds also play together.

In my mind, these are the types of behaviours that make us most human - creative thinking, cooperating, collaborating, and respecting others - and based on this research, it seems that interacting with one another in nature creates the opportunities to be at our best as a human beings.

Accordingly, in this time when we are wondering how to curb bullying in schools, might greening school yards provide one possibility? Not only to green play settings lead to positive relationships between children, they also provide an alternative to the technologies currently used in bullying. Just a thought.

Studies cited:

Bell, Anne C. and Dyment, Janet E. (2006). Grounds for action: Promoting physical activity through school ground greening in Canada. 

Dyment, Janet E. (2005). Gaining ground: The power and potential of school ground greening in the Toronto District School Board.


  1. Thanks Stephanie,
    I think it would be interesting to compare school yards (with their barren fields sprayed sometimes with herbicides over the summer) and other 'yards'... for example, universities, which are also public institutions, often have beautiful gardens, large trees, statues (supporting artists), benches to sit outside, etc. I noticed the U of C campus also has a lot of wildlife (rabbits, diverse birds, Canada geese, sometimes deer) but school yards have nothing, or maybe some seagulls. Many businesses have beautiful grounds. So, adults deserve to have a park-like atmosphere where they study and work but children don't? If a university campus looked as hideous and bare as most school yards, who would go there? But children have no choice.

    1. This is a really important point, Jackie. It is true that as adults, we are attracted to beautiful and aesthetic places. Why we would think children want anything else is beyond me. But I suppose one would look at it within the context of the institution of schools -- small or no windows in classrooms, students in desks in rows, etc. These things are changing in many schools (I hope!) and I think school yards are probably next.