There's no time for nature when a child is driven to a school that has a typical yard – asphalt, sports field, play structure – then driven to ballet or soccer or piano or Kumon.
But an international movement is afoot to fix this nature deficit by designing so-called "green playgrounds" at schools. "If kids are not able to go out and explore the world as they did in past generations, then we have the responsibility to provide them in school gardens," says Sharon Danks, partner at the Berkeley-based landscape architecture firm, Bay Tree Design. "That's where they figure out how the world works."
In these new schoolyards, children can experience the elements and the seasons, as well as learn through hands-on play in ponds and gardens. Research has repeatedly demonstrated the benefits of outdoor play, including a study last year out of the University of Tennessee that found that kids who played on natural objects, such as logs, were more active and used their imagination more than those who played on a traditional jungle gym.
Children's lives are increasingly protected in this age of helicopter parenting and these green playgrounds offer kids the chance to take risks that build confidence and independence. "You learn to fall by falling," says Danks.
Recently, schoolyard innovations from around the world were discussed at a conference run by the Toronto environmental organization Evergreen and the International School Grounds Alliance, a global network that supports green playgrounds. Here's how some schoolchildren are getting a taste of nature in different countries.
Special to The Globe and Mail
Lund, Sweden: Vinden Preschool
Kasugai City, Aichi Prefecture, Japan: Kachigawa Kindergarten
Berlin: Bambini Oase preschool
Prince George, B.C.: Westwood Elementary
Shigar Valley, Pakistan: Abruzzi School Garden
Story continues below advertisement