Green school grounds promote the holistic development and health of children

Bell, A. C., & Dyment, J. E. (2008). Grounds for health: The intersection of green school grounds and health-promoting schools. Environmental Education Research, 14, 77-90.

This review examines green school grounds as places where the interests of educators and health advocates can meet, inform and support one another. The review is framed around the idea that green school grounds can make important contributions to the holistic development of children. Also framing the discussion are two key assumptions: (1) children's readiness and ability to learn are closely tied to their physical, mental and social health; and (2) school settings can have a significant impact on both learning and health.

The review begins with an overview of recent thinking about health-promoting schools and green school grounds. The discussion then turns to ways in which green school grounds can contribute to the physical, mental, social and spiritual well-being of children. The health-promoting schools movement is based on a holistic understanding of health, which includes the idea that health means more than the absence of disease or infirmity and that there are interacting factors affecting health. One such factor is the setting in which people live, work, play, and learn. Promoting the health of children, then, involves promoting healthy settings for children, which includes the outdoor environment of schools.

Research indicates that green schoolyards generally have more holistic health benefits for children than more traditional schoolyards where grassy fields, pavement, and manufactured play equipment dominate. Green schoolyards promote physical health in a variety of ways including through the provision of shade, a decrease in crime, and increased diversity of play options, often with a positive influence on motor development. Green school grounds also offer the opportunity to promote better nutrition through gardening.

Green schoolyards promote social development by providing a diversity of play opportunities which, in turn, fosters social inclusion. Children tend to more peaceful and cooperative on green schoolyards than on traditional schoolyards, and there are fewer instances of negative and aggressive play.

Among the mental health benefits of green schoolyards are relief from stress, improved attentional functioning, heightened sense of productivity, and improved self-esteem. Spiritual benefits include a greater sense of wonder, a sense of interconnectedness with the wider world, and the development of empathy or caring for other living things. Environmental awareness and stewardship are also promoted on green school grounds, enhancing the well-being of children and the rest of the natural world.

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