Greening schoolyards is an initiative to reconnect children with nature and afford meaningful experiences that foster children’s well-being. To strengthen the empirical basis for greening schoolyards, we conducted a longitudinal prospective intervention study with a two-year follow-up, to investigate the impact of greening schoolyards on schoolchildren’s (age 7–11) appreciation of the schoolyard, and their physical, cognitive, and social-emotional well-being. Data were collected amongst nine elementary schools in moderate-to-high-urbanized areas in The Netherlands with approximately 700 children at each measurement. At baseline, all nine schoolyards were paved. Five schools greened their schoolyard between baseline and first-follow-up. Objective measurements included accelero-based measurements of physical activity during recess, attentional tests (Digit Letter Substitution Test, Natu & Argwal, 1995; Sky Search Task, Manly et al., 2001) and a social orientation test (Social Orientation Choice Card, Knight, 1981). Self-report questionnaires included children’s appreciation of the schoolyard (naturalness, likability, attractiveness and perceived restoration), and their social- and emotional well-being (Strength and Difficulties Questionnaire, van Widenfelt, Goedhart, Treffers & Goodman, 2003; Social Support, RIVM, 2005; Pediatric Quality of Life Inventory, Varni, Seid & Kurtin, 2001). Multilevel data analyses support our expectation that greening has a positive impact on children’s appreciation of the schoolyard, their attentional restoration after recess and social well-being. Furthermore, our results indicate that greening stimulates physical activity of girls. We found no impact on emotional well-being. These findings provide some support for the relevance of greening schoolyards and may guide further development of schoolyards that facilitate the well-being of schoolchildren.
Children need experiences to wonder, explore, give meaning, take risks, feel comfortable, be challenged and physically modify the world around them. These sensory-motor experiences are well-known to support children’s physical, cognitive and social-emotional development and well-being (Cole & Cole, 1989). An increasing body of evidence suggests that green spaces, like gardens, parks, woods and beaches, are essential elements of healthy communities for children to immerse in these experiences (for reviews, see Chawla & Nasar, 2015; Gill, 2014). While evidence for the importance of nearby green spaces in children’s everyday lives is growing, opportunities for children to engage with natural environments continue to decrease (Ferguson, Cassells, MacAllister, & Evans, 2013; WHO, 2017). Concerned by this loss of access to green space, organizations and professionals worldwide have highlighted the importance of reconnecting children with nature to promote healthy, sustainable and livable cities (Douglas, Lennon, & Scott, 2017; WHO, 2017). One way to reconnect children with nature is through greening their schoolyards. Given that elementary schoolchildren, aged 7–11, on average spent most of their time at school, greening schoolyards could make an important contribution to their physical, cognitive and social-emotional development and wellbeing (Chawla & Nasar, 2015).