Program Goals Schoolyards present an ideal, though usually untapped, environment to support the health of children. A growing body of evidence supports the claim that access to safe, natural areas improves health across a wide variety of outcomes, including cardiovascular health, mental health, weight management, ADHD, and stress among children. Many of these conditions are more prevalent and exact a higher toll in communities of color. The Children & Nature Network (C&NN), co-founded by Richard Louv (AAP NCE keynote 2010), is a non-profit organization with the goal of increasing equitable access to nature across the U.S. Green schoolyards offer an opportunity for access to healthy outdoor environments in everyday lives of children. When opened to the public outside of school hours, they provide value to the entire community through improved health outcomes, higher rates of community and family cohesion, and increased opportunities for active outdoor play and restoration.
Nationally, C&NN is aligning disparate efforts to propel policy, research, partnerships and funding that foster green schoolyards at scale. In target cities, C&NN and the National League of Cities (NLC) partner to provide resources and technical assistance to advance city/school partnerships, support policy, and provide training and support to implement nature-rich outdoor environments on school grounds. Evaluation The C&NN Scientific Advisory Council (SAC) and staff completed a thorough review of scientific literature on green schoolyards which resulted in important, compelling data to promote and advocate for the benefits of green schoolyards. This resulted in C&NN creating four thoroughly-vetted infographics summarizing peer reviewed scientific literature documenting green schoolyard benefits to academic outcomes*, beneficial play*, physical activity, and mental health. (We were limited to submitting 2 figures, additional figures available at: http://www.childrenandnature.org/initiatives/schoolyards/).
In a 7-city cohort, the compelling research on the benefits of green schoolyards allowed 5 of the 7 cities to prioritize green schoolyards in their citywide implementation plans, led by their mayors’ offices. The research currently has supported district-level and city-government decision-makers to come together to forge formal partnerships for green schoolyard implementation at a larger scale than was previously possible. Discussion Pediatricians and pediatric health providers can be key leaders in this effort, lending their health influence in the community to promoting outdoor engagement on green schoolyards as an intervention that supports both mental and physical health in children. To propel health providers, cities, and schools to advocate for and implement this key health strategy, C&NN will launch in fall 2017 the Green Schoolyards Resource Hub, which will include additional research on community benefits, resources for decision-makers and school implementers, and measurement tools to evaluate attributes, quality, equity and community benefit of green schoolyards.
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