Positive development outcomes of green schoolyards in low-income neighborhoods can be maintained over time

Bates, C. R., Bohnert, A. M., & Gerstein, D. E. (2018). Green schoolyards in low-income neighborhoods: Natural spaces for positive youth development outcomes. Frontiers In Psychology. https://doi.org/http://dx.doi.org/10.3389/fpsyg.2018.00805

Multiple benefits of access to green schoolyards are well-documented in the literature. This study expands that literature by examining children's positive behaviors over time on renovated green schoolyards in the context of low-income urban neighborhoods. The study considers two positive development outcomes: physical activity (PA) and social interactions. It also considers perceptions of student safety, injuries, bullying, and gang activity.

Three public elementary schools, located in three distinct urban neighborhoods across the south and west sides of Chicago, participated in this study. The student population of all three schools consists of a high percentage of children (pre-k through 8th grade) from low-income minority families. Each of the schools, with support and input from community groups, developed a green schoolyard on their school grounds within a two-year period prior to the start of the research project. Researchers used observations and surveys to collect data for the study. They collected observational data at two different times, six months apart (both after the renovation) using behavioral mapping methodology. Behavior mapping, as used in this study, allowed for the objective observation of children's physical and social behavior on the schoolyard along with associated schoolyard components and attributes. As a part of the behavior mapping exercise, researchers used the Child Activity Rating Scale to collect data on children's PA and the System for Observing Children's Activity and Relationships during Play to collect data on children's social interactions. They collected survey data at two different times, with a time span of one year between the two administrations. Teachers and caregivers completed the self-administered surveys to report perceived changes in student safety, injuries, teasing/bullying, and gang activity following the green schoolyard renovation.

Observational results showed a significant decrease in sedentary activity over time and significant increases in positive social interactions. There were age and gender differences in the PA levels, with children in grades k-4 being significantly more active than children in grades 5–8, and males being more active than females. Survey results indicated increased perceptions of safety, fewer injuries, less teasing/bullying, and less gang-related activity on the renovated green schoolyards in comparison to the pre-renovation schoolyards. These effects were sustained up to 32 months after the schoolyard renovation.

These results indicate that positive physical and social development outcomes among urban, low-income children observed on renovated green schoolyards can be maintained overtime and that these outcomes may actually improve over time.

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