Influence of Schoolyard Renovations on Children's Physical Activity

By rebuilding dilapidated schoolyards, Learning Landscapes has led school children to be more physically active. The program is a broad based, public-private partnership.

A limited amount of research has shown that upgrading schoolyards leads school children to be more physically active. Since 1998, Learning Landscapes has rebuilt 48 elementary schoolyards in the Denver metropolitan area.

This article reports on a study that assessed differences in physical activity levels on Learning Landscapes and non-renovated schoolyards. The study looked at nine schoolyards in three low-income areas of Denver: a neighborhood experiencing gang activity and low parental involvement in school life; an historically White, but increasingly Hispanic area; and, a mostly Hispanic neighborhood with one of the highest dropout rates in the nation.

The study divided the schoolyard environment into four categories: hard surface structured (basketball and tetherball areas) and unstructured, and soft surface structured (play equipment and fall zones) and unstructured. School children wore accelerometers that measured the intensity of physical activity in each schoolyard. The authors used SOPLAY (the System for Observing Play and Leisure Activity in Youth) to measure activity before, during and after school hours.

Key Findings:

  • A greater percentage of students used Learning Landscapes schoolyards than used non-renovated schoolyards.
  • School children expended more energy playing in Learning Landscapes schoolyards.
  • There was a significant difference in the percentage of active boys who used hard surface, unstructured areas on Learning Landscapes schoolyards compared to non-renovated schoolyards.

The findings presented in this article build on previous studies of physical activity in schoolyards. The authors examined specific components of the schoolyard environment. Learning Landscapes is developing schoolyards that foster physical activity.