All of a sudden it seems to have become a movement of sorts: healthy and green schoolyards. Both in grade schools and in child care there is a green wind blowing. This is not surprising: never before have we seen so many obese children and kids taking medication as in our time. Add to this the warning by scientists that the ‘iPad generation’ is lagging behind in motor skills and the picture is complete: today’s children hardly play outside anymore. Instead they sit behind screens and experience difficulties with using their bodies and with begin around nature. But now a turning point has been reached: a change needs to be made.
An important step for this change in the way of thinking was made in ‘Last Child in the Woods’ by Richard Louv. This book appeared in 2007 and became a huge best seller in the U.S. mostly and brought forth a national discussion. In the Netherlands the translation also sells well and its portent is embraced more and more.
Learning while playing
Making actual contact with nature stimulates the senses and motor skills, enhances creativity and the ability to concentration. To encourage this, the right healthy and green schoolyards have many specific elements, such as a vegetable garden, hills, tree trunks et cetera. Because of this variation children are challenged more to move about, play and discover. This way, kids build up a relationship with nature. A proper green schoolyard can also be an excellent place to teach in. We say ‘proper’, because not all green areas are considered a proper green schoolyard. Research has also shown that pupils and teachers and other staff need to be involved in the process from the beginning, because all parties need to learn, again, how to deal with green and the educational possibilities it brings.
A healthy schoolyard is a good for all
The first green schoolyards were constructed for the pupils of those particular schools primarily, but now they also appear to be used after school hours. Places where kids can play safely outside are becoming scarcer and all people in the area appreciate green areas. A green schoolyard in a neighbourhood is a good thing for all.
Where to start?
Primary and grade schools in the Netherlands can take a peek at Gezonde School (healthy school). Here, you will find checklists, brochures and more information. Starting in March 2014, schools could also apply for funding. And they can discover how to deserve consideration for the label ‘Healthy school’.
A similar movement is happening in childcare. The Stichting Groen Cement (Society for Green Cement) has launched a quality label last year and has made 2014 into the jaar van de groene kinderopvang (year of green childcare).
In the United States you can look further on the Children & Nature Network.
Be inspired by these Dutch examples
Stichting Groen Cement wants to achieve a connection between all those that work with the relationship between child and nature. The first Groen Cement fair, on 15 April 2011, attracted childcare professionals as well as environmental specialists. They joined in workshops and speed dates and listened to talks.
This kick-off video shows the threats and opportunities of playing in nature and learning in nature in a nutshell.
The development of two green schoolyards in Nijmegen, the Netherlands
This short video shows how two paved schoolyards were transformed in challenging green schoolyards. It also demonstrates how the process formed part of their success. It is important to let pupils join in, before and during the construction.
The opening of primary school Fellenoord
This school has received 50,000 Euro by Jantje Beton (long-standing Dutch society to encourage outdoor activities for children) to re-design their schoolyard. This yard has a more structured character, includes more grey and green – and not just green –elements.
The development of the green schoolyard for primary school Wonnebald
This video is about the plans for primary school Wonnebald for realizing a new green schoolyard in front of the school. It is accessible to the entire neighbourhood and will be made possible with the involvement of the parents.
The green, edible schoolyard of De Schakel in Leiden
Primary school De Schakel in Leiden is constructing a green and edible schoolyard, in collaboration with Stichting Gezonde Gronden (The Healthy Grounds foundation). Chief sponsor here was Fonds 1818. It is active in the region, which is called Westland, known for its greenhouse cultivation. After conversations in the classroom and building mock-ups, the pupils experimented with designing their ideas on a larger scale using 60 straw bales. This video gives an impression of the “straw day” on 26 May 2011.