It is essential that as research on the schoolyard moves forward, the insights provided by the students are put into practice—after all, the schoolyard is their environment!
2001 Urban Fellow
Research Topic: Socio-cultural and Ecological Interactions
Faculty Advisor: Stephen Kellert
Child’s Play: An Empirical Study of the Relationship Between the Physical Form of Schoolyards and Children's Behavior
There is a growing body of literature that suggests children’s experiences in natural environments support healthy growth and development. This issue is particularly relevant for children who are growing up in an urban context where access to green-space is increasingly limited. The obvious solution to this problem is to protect existing parks and other natural areas such as vacant lots. While this is certainly an important element in increasing natural experiences for children, a number of issues including safety and accessibility necessitate additional actions. There is an urgent need to examine the institutions where children are spending their time, such as schools, and assess whether these physical environments can be adapted to promote positive child development. One such strategy is the “naturalization” of schoolyards. This paper is divided into two parts. The first section reviews existing literature on the importance of nature experiences in the development of the “whole child”, which includes psychological and social development, as well as the acquisition of knowledge. The concept of a “Natural Schoolyard” and its role in child development through the provision of opportunities for contact with the natural world is discussed. This is especially important for urban children who may lack access to these experiences due to characteristics typical of their living environments. The second part of this paper is a description of an exploratory study that I performed with two third grade classes at Worthington Hooker Elementary School in New Haven. The goal of this study was to lay the foundation for future studies that aim to understand the way that the students use the schoolyard. My hope is that the information generated from this study can be 2 combined with the information on Natural schoolyards to create play spaces that better meet the needs of the children. The paper provides what I believe are some important lessons for designers, environmental scientists, educators, and child advocates about the relevance of schoolyard design to child development and concludes with suggestions for future research.