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Influence of schoolyard renovations on children's physical activity: The Learning Landscapes program

Summary


Adding green elements to a schoolyard prompts more physical activity

This quasi-experimental study examined whether schoolyard improvements – including adding more natural elements – led to increased physical activity for both girls and boys. This study also assessed which aspects of schoolyard design had an impact on physical activity. Nine elementary schools in the Denver area participated in the study – six with renovated schoolyards, three without renovation serving as controls. All nine schools were located in low-income neighborhoods and represented a broad range of ethnic and minority groups.

Schoolyard renovations were based on the Learning Landscapes model, which includes “greening” the grounds. The schoolyard in each of the schools was divided into four major activity areas: hard surface structured (for such activities as tetherball and basketball); hard surface unstructured (unprogrammed shady areas accommodating such activities as sitting or social gathering); soft surface structured (featuring play equipment with fall zones and grassy or non-grassy fields); soft surface unstructured (more natural areas for Learning Landscapes schools and only nongrass soft surface areas for control schools). Children’s physical activity — in terms of volume and energy expended — was then calculated for each area. Energy expended is calculated by combining volume of use with activity level. SOPLAY (System for Observing Play and Leisure Activity in Youth) was used to measure (by gender) children’s physical activity before, during, and after school hours at the participating schools.

Results indicated that the volume of physical activity was significantly higher at schools with renovated schoolyards than at control schools. Students were also significantly more active and expended more energy at the renovated schools. These effects endured over time. Activity levels for both girls and boys were significantly higher in certain activity areas than other areas. The highest level of activity was in the soft surface structured areas. This proved to be true for both the newly-installed and longer-established Learning Landscapes schools. Soft surface unstructured areas were not compared with control schools because these areas did not exist on the control school schoolyards. According to the researchers, findings suggest that the actual design of the schoolyard (providing a wider variety of play options) versus its newness is what encourages and sustains over time more physical activity in children.They also note that their results suggest that girls will engage in physical activity at similar levels as boys if appropriate equipment is available and the environment is one in which they feel comfortable playing.

 

Citation

Brink, L.A., Nigg, C.R., Lampe, S.M.R., Kingston, B.A., Mootz, A.L., van Vliet, W., (2010). Influence of schoolyard renovations on children's physical activity: The Learning Landscapes program. American Journal of Public Health, 100(9), 1672-1678.

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