Children who play outside in 'green schoolyards' have better mental health - an better academic performance. [Photo: Bigstock]

Green schoolyards improve kids’ mental and physical health

19 September, 2017

Natural Health News A growing body of evidence supports the claim that access to safe, natural areas improves health across a wide variety of areas, including heart health, mental health, weight management, ADHD, and stress among children.

One concept gaining momentum in this realm is green schoolyards. But what is a green schoolyard?

A new report, “Green Schoolyards Support Healthy Bodies, Minds and Communities,” that explores the concept of a green schoolyard was presented ahead of publication as this week’s American Academy of Pediatrics National Conference & Exhibition in Chicago.

“Green schoolyards can include outdoor classrooms, native gardens, storm water capture, traditional play equipment, vegetable gardens, trails, trees and more,” says Stephen Pont, at Dell Children’s Texas Center and an assistant professor of Pediatrics at UT-Austin Dell Medical School.

“And outside of school time, these schoolyards can be open for the surrounding community to use, benefitting everyone.”

What you need to know

» A growing body of evidence shows that children gain measurable benefits from contact with nature.

» A new analysis of green schoolyard projects in the US suggests that greening our schoolyards can offer an opportunity for children to experience a healthy outdoor environment as part of their daily lives.

» This can translate into better mental health as well as better academic performance.

Nature – “Vitamin N”

Green schoolyards offer an opportunity for children to experience a healthy outdoor environment as part of their daily lives. After school hours, they provide value to the entire community through improved health, higher rates of community and family engagement, and increased opportunities for active outdoor play and relaxation.

“Too many children have no access to quality school grounds. In many neighbourhoods, the standard play space is a barren asphalt playground or a concrete slab surrounded by chain link fence – a completely unsuitable environment for children’s play.” says Richard Louv, Co-Founder of the Children & Nature Network.

For this study, researchers summarised the growing body of peer-reviewed scientific literature documenting green schoolyard benefits to academic outcomes, beneficial play, physical activity, and mental health.

To date, the research on the benefits of green schoolyards has enabled 5 cities to implement such projects in collaboration with the Children & Nature Network and the National League of Cities. These include Austin, Texas; Grand Rapids, Michigan; San Francisco, California; Providence, Rhode Island; and Madison, Wisconsin.

“So many physicians and health professionals choose to spend their free time in nature, but we often forget that nature can be a powerful health intervention for our patients, both for the prevention and improvement of many medical conditions,” says Dr. Pont. “We should all be champions for kids and families getting more Vitamin N.”