It doesn't take much for planning professionals to imagine what it would look like if all schoolyards were places for children to learn and play during the day and for the community to enjoy a park outside of school hours.
Planners understand that schoolyards don't need to be an endless sea of asphalt or monoculture of grass with one piece of playground equipment. Rather, we understand that our schoolyards can be places to play, learn, and grow, with outdoor classrooms, edible gardens, native gardens, trails, and trees, designed to capture stormwater and increase climate resilience.
Our cities and towns would look and feel so differently for both children and adults, wildlife and waterways, if every single schoolyard was a green schoolyard.
With partners like APA, the Children & Nature Network's (C&NN) Green Schoolyards for Healthy Communities Initiative is working to grow the number of U.S. schoolyards that offer natural elements, family engagement and community access.
Green schoolyards are not new. In fact, citywide programs have been happening around the country upwards of 40 years. Yet, asphalt and grass are still the norm. C&NN is working to create the conditions for scaling green schoolyards nationally because schoolyards can and should be so much more than most are right now.
What Is a Green Schoolyard?
The Children & Nature Network envisions green schoolyards as multifunctional school grounds designed for and by the school community that offer places for students, teachers, parents, and community members to play, learn, explore, and grow with regular connection to nature.
During out-of-school time, these schoolyards are ideally open to the community to use. Green schoolyard features can include outdoor classrooms, native/pollinator gardens, stormwater capture, traditional play equipment, nature play areas, edible gardens, trails, trees and more.
Our vision is that all U.S. children have access to at least one green schoolyard by 2047 to ensure their healthy mental, physical, cognitive and social development.
Creating Green Schoolyards
To accomplish this, we're helping to create and implement a green schoolyards action agenda that will be adopted at the C&NN International Leadership Summit in May 2018. We are also supporting cities with technical assistance to develop new green schoolyards programs and creating resources that the field and cities have requested.
Just this past fall, C&NN launched the Green Schoolyards Resource Hub to give municipalities and school districts the tools they need and to prevent them from having to "start from scratch" with their green schoolyard programs. This Resource Hub provides a guided, step-by-step process for creating and sustaining an equity-driven citywide or district-wide green schoolyards program so that all children benefit.
Please use and share the Green Schoolyards Resource Hub to make the case for green schoolyards in your community.
Top image: Space to Grow is a program intended to transform Chicago schoolyards into beautiful and functional spaces to play, learn, garden, and be outside. The schoolyards also use special design elements to help reduce neighborhood flooding. Photo courtesy the Children & Nature Network.
About the Author
Jaime Zaplatosch is the director of Green Schoolyards for Healthy Communities at the Children & Nature Network.