The greening of schoolyards positively impacted children's well-being, especially of girls and younger children

van Dijk-Wesselius, J. E., Maas, J., Hoving, D., van Vugt, M., & van den Berg, A. E. (2018). The impact of greening schoolyards on the appreciation, and physical cognitive and social-emotional well-being of schoolchildren: A prospective intervention study. Landscape And Urban Planning, 180, 15-26.

A green schoolyard is an outdoor school environment featuring such natural elements as trees, bushes, flowers, sand, and water. In addition to making a schoolyard more appealing, previous research shows that natural elements can also enhance children's play experiences. This study was based on the understanding that greening schoolyards could also play an important role in promoting the physical, cognitive and social-emotional development and wellbeing of children.

Nine elementary schools in urbanized areas of The Netherlands participated in this study which was conducted over a three-year period. At the beginning of the study, all nine schools were paved; none had gone through the “greening” process. After a series of baseline assessments were completed, five of the schools – the intervention schools -- greened their schoolyards. Four schools – the control schools – did not green their schoolyards. The assessments included a broad set of objective and self-report measurements. Objective measurements included (1) video observations of children's outdoor play behavior, (2) accelerometer-based physical activity measurements at the schoolyard, and (3) classroom-based tests of children's attentional capacity and social value orientation. Self-report measurements included questionnaires focusing on (1) children's perceptions of the schoolyard in relation to naturalness, likability, attractiveness and perceived restoration and (2) their social and emotional wellbeing. Approximately 700 children (age 7-11) completed the assessments at each of the three measurement periods: in 2014 at baseline, in 2015 at first year follow-up, and in 2016 at second year follow-up.

Overall results showed that children perceived their schoolyard as more natural and attractive after greening. This was especially true for younger children and for girls. After greening, children reported fewer negative interactions with peers and more social support. One-year follow-up results showed that greened schoolyards stimulated girls' physical activity. Two-year follow-up results showed improved attention after recess in green schoolyards. Positive results of greening a schoolyard also included improved social functioning in the areas of social support and self-reported peer problems, particularly for younger children. The study found no impact on children's emotional well-being.

This research provides some support for greening schoolyards and may be helpful in guiding further development of schoolyards that promote the well-being of children.

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