Children who help develop their school grounds are changemakers. Living schoolyards are most often created through "barn-raising"-like processes, where students, parents, teachers, principals, school district administrators and other school community members collaborate to envision a better outdoor environment on their school grounds, and then work together to make it a reality. When Green Schoolyards America works with school districts, children play a key role in the process to re-shape their grounds.
We consider students to be experts on their own schoolyard environments, and work with them to identify what's working well on their grounds and which areas need improvement. This process involves research, communication and consensus building as students work together with their peers and adults to identify and accomplish a shared vision. This type of participatory process builds confidence and leadership skills for both students and adults, as well as empathy for each other and for the living plants and animals onsite. The Living Schoolyards that result from this type of design process promote mental and physical health and social and emotional wellbeing, while creating great places to learn, play and nurture neighborhood nature.
Our "How cool is your schoolyard" project adds another layer of research and analysis to the work we have done in the past. It allows students to participate in citizen science to understand how the materials we choose for our urban environment (in this case, school grounds) change the temperatures in our cities. As they find hot spots in their playground, they can also identify solutions to make those places more comfortable. This type of problem and solution are on a scale that students can understand and be proud of--helping them to see that they can be changemakers throughout their lives.