The Total Child

Benefits of Green Time

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Guest post by the "Screen & Green" panelists at the 2018 National Conference on Education. The panelists were Kevin Maxwell, CEO of Prince George's County Public Schools (Md.), Jeanne McCarty, CEO of REAL School Gardens (Washington D.C.)  and Jaime Zaplatosch, Director of Children Nature Network (MN).

Now that it’s officially spring, teachers across the country are getting excited to take their students outside. Whether schools have simple vegetable beds, outdoor classrooms, or full on green schoolyards, both students and teachers reap a multitude of benefits when they spend more time outdoors.

In February at the AASA Conference in Nashville, the “Screen Time & Green Time” panel discussed why it’s just as crucial to take your 21st-century-learners outside as it is to take them to the computer lab. But despite the proven benefits of ensuring children have frequent time and space outside, many teachers and administrators struggle to create and program effective green spaces for children. Our panelists offer some suggestions and resources to help you effectively plan, create, and activate your greenspace.

How to Plan your Program
Jaime Zaplatosch
Director – Green Schoolyards Initiative
Children & Nature Network


A growing body of evidence shows that time spent learning and playing in nature helps children reach their full academic and social-emotional potential. Regular access to high quality green space improves mental and physical health -- and inspires strong connections to the natural world.

While only a small percentage of U.S. schools currently offer nature-filled outdoor spaces, many communities are exploring green schoolyards as a strategy for increasing educational and health equity, and enhancing quality of life. The number of green schoolyards is growing as communities mobilize to transform asphalt and turf grass into enriching outdoor areas where children and families can learn, play and grow both during and outside of school time.

We envision green schoolyards as multi-functional school grounds that offer places for students, teachers, parents and community members to play, learn, explore and grow with regular connection to nature. Green schoolyard features can include things such as outdoor classrooms, native/pollinator gardens, stormwater capture, play equipment, nature play areas, edible gardens, trails, and trees.

Engage partners outside of the school district to develop a green schoolyards program that helps them achieve their mission and put their resources on your schoolyards; consider who cares about each of the benefits shown here and invite them for a conversation. Visit our Green Schoolyards Resource Hub for a step-by-step process and existing resources for creating and sustaining a district-wide green schoolyards program.

 Real-World Proof
Dr. Kevin Maxwell
CEO - Prince Georges County Public Schools

Prince George's County Public Schools (PGCPS) in Maryland is one of the nation's 25 largest school districts, with an incredibly diverse student population by almost any metric. Maryland was the first state in the nation to adopt an environmental literacy high school graduation requirement as part of their environmental literacy standards and PGCPS embraced those standards with rich program offerings that promoted environmental literacy for all our students.

We’ve seen firsthand how our environmental initiatives support a holistic approach to education, creating robust, real-world learning experiences. PGCPS gets students excited about school and engaged in learning, bolstering STEM learning, problem solving, critical thinking and more. Our students enjoy their outdoor environmental lessons, and love to work on “real world” projects where they solve problems, collect and analyze data, and explore the environment. These are the lessons and projects kids talk about years later, so the deep learning that’s taking place stays with them throughout school and life.

PGCPS is now considered a national model program, and I’ve helped convene superintendents interested in harnessing the power of environmental education. To learn more, visit the Superintendents’ Environmental Education Collaborative (SEEC).

How to Activate Green Space for Academics
Jeanne McCarty
CEO - REAL School Gardens

One of the big barriers to getting children outdoors more often is that teachers and administrators can’t afford to lose instructional time. Luckily, instead of losing instructional time, teachers can actually use the outdoors to teach more efficiently, effectively increasing their instructional time by taking certain lessons outdoors and delivering them in a hands-on way. Studies show that students are more engaged in outdoor learning, and teachers’ effectiveness and job-satisfaction improves when they’re trained to take learning outdoors. That’s because experiential learning in a real-world setting increases student engagement and academic achievement, especially in science and math.

When you provide teachers with the proper tools and training they need to effectively use outdoor spaces to support academics, they feel more confident and prepared to incorporate experiential learning into their lessons and get students outdoors to learn. Administrators should consider providing professional development for teachers that focuses on outdoor experiential learning. We provide one-on-one coaching and personalized support to ensure that outdoor teaching becomes deeply embedded into the school culture and produces long-term results for teachers and students alike.