2021 journal article

Exploring geographical, curricular, and demographic factors of nature use by children in urban schoolyards in Raleigh, NC, USA

Urban Forestry & Urban Greening, 65, 127323.

author keywords: Children; Nature-based activities; Nature-rich school ground; Professional development; Teachers; Urban green schoolyards
UN Sustainable Development Goal Categories
Source: ORCID
Added: September 2, 2021

Experience in nature provides a host of benefits to children, but today’s children who live in urban environments spend less time with nature compared to previous generations. Because children spend a large amount of time at school, greening schoolyards is one strategy for providing children with more access to nature and its benefits. However, installing nature-rich spaces in schoolyards may not guarantee their use, and research is needed to understand how the physical make-up of schoolyards may interact with teacher and student-related factors to predict use of natural elements on schoolyards. We inventoried 9 urban schoolyards and surveyed an associated 199 3rd-6th grade students and 14 teachers to measure children’s awareness and use of nature-rich vs. traditional outdoor spaces as predicted by teachers’ behavior (i.e. taking students outdoors) and environmental education-related training, student demography, and schoolyard physical environment. We found that children were less aware of nature-rich spaces (gardens 69 %, woodlands 28 %) compared to traditional outdoor spaces (playgrounds 73 %, athletic fields 77 %) and spent less time there (once a month versus several times a week). However, teachers taking children outdoors (p = 0.001) and trained in environmental education (p = 0.10) positively predicted student awareness of gardens. Teacher training in environmental education was also predictive of children exploring woodlands (p = 0.04), highlighting the importance of teacher training in successful green schoolyard efforts. We provide a glimpse of schoolyards as places for urban children to access nature's benefits by studying different school factors that influence children’s nature-based activities. Simply implementing natural spaces in schoolyards cannot guarantee the use of natural spaces by children. Providing institutional support and professional development for teachers may help to enhance children's awareness of different nature-rich areas and promote nature-base activities in schoolyards.