Green Schoolyard Transformation in Boston

Between 1995 and 2013, the Boston Schoolyard Initiative (BSI) transformed Boston's schoolyards from barren asphalt lots into dynamic centers for recreation, learning and community life. School-by-school, neighborhood-by-neighborhood, BSI reached children, families, community members and teachers with vibrant outdoor spaces for increased physical activity and creative new approaches to using the schoolyard for teaching and learning.  We accomplished our work through a public-private partnership between the City of Boston, Boston Public Schools and the Boston Schoolyard Funders Collaborative.


  • 88 schoolyards revitalized
  • 30,000 school children reached
  • 130 acres of asphalt reclaimed

Principals report that BSI schoolyards lead to increased physical activity (100%); improved student behavior (63.2%) and improved relationships with parents and community (73.7%).*

New outdoor classroom designs bring teaching outdoors and nature to the schoolyard. Green practices, including green roofs on tool shed and recycled rubber surfaces are now often a part of schoolyard design and construction. And BSI teaching resources and professional development help teachers revitalize instruction and motivate students to learn. BSI-designed Science in the Schoolyard and Outdoor Writers Workshop training reach teachers and whole faculties, creating teams of teachers within schools and across the district who incorporate the schoolyard into teaching and learning.

GIS analysis of urban schoolyard landcover in three U.S. cities

Schoolyards are dominated by turf grass and impervious surface Increasingly, research is demonstrating the benefits that green space can provide to children’s health and well-being and to environmental quality (e.g., reduced urban runoff and moderation of climate). Children spend about one third of their day at school; however, little is known about the actual physical structure of school property. In this study, Alexis Schulman and Catherine A. Peters classified and compared land cover on 258 U.S. public elementary and middle schoolyards in three major U.S. cities (Baltimore, Boston, and Detroit). The authors used aerial photographs from the mid- to late 1990s and Geographic Information System software to classify and analyze schoolyard landcover. Schulman and Peters found that, on average, schoolyards covered more than 68% of the school property and that they were dominated by turf grass and impervious surface, with very little tree cover (on average, less than 10%). The authors also found that schoolyard size had an important influence on cover type in that larger schoolyards tended to have lower levels of impervious surface. Schulman and Peters contend that the amount of tree cover found in most schoolyards is inadequate given health and environmental quality research findings to date. In concluding their article, the authors discuss important opportunities and obstacles to greening schoolyards and provide a number of recommendations.

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Green schoolyards as havens from stress and resources for resilience in childhood and adolescence

Natural schoolyards decrease stress, strengthen attention, reduce behavior problems, and enhance factors associated with resilience in children of all ages

Research on stress, resilience, and benefits of contact with nature in children has historically been conducted in separate disciplines: medicine, clinical psychology, developmental psychology, environment and behavior. These disciplines are shown to be connected in the current study.

Stress and anxiety in children are increasingly prevalent, contributing to increased risk of many mental and physical health problems in adulthood as well as through their growing years. A range of protective factors is known to promote resilience in children. The purpose of this study was to explore how naturally-vegetated schoolyards can reduce stress in children and youth while also enhancing factors associated with development of resilience.

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Jack Schneider, “Beyond Test Scores,” Sept 20th, Harvard Coop

by The Coop Event Series...Authors, Coop Kids & More!

Wed, Sept 20, 7:00 – 8:30 PM

Harvard Coop, 1400 Mass Avenue, Cambridge, MA 02138

Beyond Test Scores reframes current debates over school quality by offering new approaches to educational data that can push us past our unproductive fixation on test scores. Using the highly diverse urban school district of Somerville, Massachusetts, as a case study, Schneider and his research team developed a new framework to more fairly and comprehensively assess educational effectiveness. And by adopting a wide range of measures aligned with that framework, they were able to more accurately capture a broader array of school strengths and weaknesses. Their new data not only provided parents, educators, and administrators with a clearer picture of school performance, but also challenged misconceptions about what makes a good school.

About the Author

Jack Schneider is Assistant Professor of Education at the College of the Holy Cross and Director of Research for the Massachusetts Consortium for Innovative Education Assessment.

Why Recess is important: The role of recess in child development

Children and adolescents need increased opportunities to participate together in both structured and unstructured play. In addition to the classroom-specific benefits, opportunities for play through participation in leisure and recreation activities, including recess, have been linked to more generalized benefits, such as enhanced self-esteem and self-confidence, the ability to combat negative peer pressure, enhanced quality of life, and increased social acceptance and integration into the community. Read more.

The Role of Recess in Children’s Cognitive Performance and School Adjustment

The authors suggest that the recess period serves a positive purpose in the primary school curriculum, counter to the current practice of minimizing recess in many schools across North America and the United Kingdom. The authors' position is embedded in the larger debate about school accountability; they argue that school policy should be based on the best theory and empirical evidence available. They support their argument for the importance of recess with theory and with experimental and longitudinal data showing how recess breaks maximize children's cognitive performance and adjustment to school. Read more.

The Benefits of Recess in Primary School

Although recess has traditionally been a regular practice in primary school settings, today recess is being reduced or eliminated in an effort to provide more instructional time and increase achievement. However, empirical research does not support the elimination or reduction of recess. Research documents that recess affords many physical, cognitive, and social benefits for primary school children. These benefits have a positive effect on classroom behavior and achievement. In the current era of evidence-based practice, it is important to utilize empirical research when making decisions regarding educational policy. Read more.

Study: Children’s classroom behavior is better if they have recess

Recess provides one of the few opportunities for children to engage in free play and physical activity at school and to potentially be outdoors. Barros and colleagues investigated the amount of recess 8- to 9-year-old children have in the U.S. and compared the classroom behavior of children who receive and do not receive daily recess. The researchers analyzed data from a nationally representative sample of over 10,000 third-grade children in public and private schools.  In examining school behavior, Barros and colleagues found that teachers’ rating of overall classroom behavior was better for children with some recess as compared to those with none/minimal break, however, the frequency and amount of recess was not significant. This study provides valuable information about the amount of recess 8- to 9-year-old children receive and relationships to classroom behavior.

Children’s classroom behavior is better if they have recess

Recess: It’s Important!

Recess advocates include the American Association for the Child’s Right to Play, the National Association for Sport and Physical Association, even the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the American Academy of Pediatrics. Besides the opportunity to get exercise, proponents say, recess offers social and emotional benefits as children dream up ideas and resolve conflicts during play.

The Crucial Role of Recess

The American Academy of Pediatrics' (AAP)  position paper on “The Crucial Role of Recess,” describing the numerous benefits recess provides for children. The AAP recommends that all children partake in daily, supervised recess (AAP, 2013). Access to recess is important for all children, not only those who are typically developing but also those with special needs such as IDD. Minimizing or eliminating recess may be counterproductive to academic achievement, as a growing body of evidence suggests that recess promotes not only physical health and social development but also cognitive performance. Although recess and physical education both promote activity and a healthy lifestyle, it is only supervised but unstructured recess that offers children the opportunity to actually play creatively.

There is consensus about the need for regularly scheduled recess based on national guidelines, even though the length of the recess period has not been firmly established. In schools, the length specified for recess ranges widely, from 20 to 60 minutes per day. In other countries, such as Japan, primary school-aged children have a 10- to 15-minute break every hour, and this is thought to reflect the fact that attention spans begin to wane after 40 to 50 minutes of intense instruction.