Green Schoolyards are on the Rise

A child works in a notebook while laying in gradd

The green schoolyards movement is growing. A green schoolyard is an outdoor space that supports a school’s mission to help kids learn and grow through instruction, exploration, and play. There’s no one correct blueprint for an effective green schoolyard. Instead, the best green schoolyards are created collaboratively with students, staff, caregivers, and community members and are specific to the communities they are situated in and serve. A green schoolyard might include an outdoor classroom, areas for nature play, native and edible plants, a pollinator garden, or stormwater systems, as well as more traditional features like playground equipment and spaces for athletics.

A group of children play on a green lawn

Green schoolyards have a range of benefits, including boosting environmental literacy, supporting family engagement, providing wildlife habitat, reducing impacts of extreme heat, encouraging positive play, increasing focus and attention, and much more. Kids deserve to learn and play in spaces designed to support their mental and physical health and encourage their social and emotional development. Even better, the benefits of green schoolyards don’t stop with students. Recent studies have shown that the introduction of green schoolyards improved school-community relationships and boosted community members’ perceptions of safety. Teachers and school staff also benefit from investment in making their workplaces more welcoming, beautiful, and natural places. Teachers in a Chicago-based study reported using green schoolyards both as an extension of the classroom and as an area for leisure and enjoyment.

A schoolyard contains clusters of trees and garden beds

A key feature of the green schoolyard movement is a focus on equity. Access to greenspace remains inequitable in the United States. More affluent and whiter communities receive disproportionate mental, physical, and environmental health benefits through greater access to public greenspaces like parks and greenways. Investing in green schoolyards in public schools across the country offers a pathway to boosting access to greenspace for all children. Public schools already offer myriad social services and are a gathering point for youth and families in most communities. For this to be an effective effort, however, resources for building, maintaining, and integrating curricula with green schoolyards must be widely available for school systems. Green schoolyards should not only be available to students already situated in well-resourced suburban districts. Low-income schools in urban and rural areas, especially those serving youth of color, must also have access to the expertise and money necessary to build green schoolyards.

Children dig in a garden bed

Although green schoolyards may require additional initial costs, they can ultimately save money through reduced water usage, less frequent mowing and other maintenance, storm water mitigation, and temperature regulation. Green Schoolyards America is a national leader in bringing these benefits to schools across the country. The organization is currently working with the California Schoolyard Forest System initiative to help California meet its goal of covering 30% of school properties with tree canopy by 2030. Hopefully, this initiative will serve as a roadmap for school systems in other parts of the country to develop green schoolyard plans so that youth everywhere in the U.S. can attend schools that are part of healthy ecosystems of native plants and flourishing human communities.