Space to Grow Increases Physical Activity Among Students

January 29, 2016

When you look at the before and after pictures, it’s obvious how transformative Space to Grow schoolyard redesigns are. Empty asphalt lots give way to athletic fields, play equipment, lush gardens, outdoor classroom spaces and active children.

Space to Grow is an innovative public-private partnership co-managed by Healthy Schools Campaign and Openlands that transforms Chicago schoolyards into centers of school and community life that support active and healthy lifestyles, outdoor learning, physical education and engagement with nature. The program receives capital funding and support from Chicago Public Schools, the Chicago Department of Water Management and the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District of Greater Chicago.

But how are these schoolyard transformations benefiting students and their families?

That’s what we set out to learn through a small, longitudinal pilot study with the Consortium to Lower Obesity in Chicago Children (CLOCC).

The study aimed to measure the impact of Space to Grow schoolyard redesigns on students’ physical activity and the community’s social cohesion. Two schools, Morrill Elementary in the Chicago Lawn neighborhood and Grissom Elementary in the Hegewisch neighborhood, participated in the study.

Notable findings of the study include:

  • Students are more active. Data collected from accelerometers used to measure students’ physical activity before and after the schoolyard redesign showed notable increases in moderate to vigorous physical activity (MVPA) during the week with statistically significant increases among boys (from 20.3 minutes to 49.6 minutes) and promising trends, though not statistically significant due to sample size, among girls (from 22.8 minutes to 28.1 minutes).
  • Activity increased in all grade levels studied. The evaluation included three grade levels (first, fourth and seventh grades) and students in all three grades showed increased activity. Statistically significant increases were evident among the first graders (19.5 minutes to 27.8 minutes) and seventh graders (7.8 minutes to 27.9 minutes). MVPA also increased among fourth graders from 31.7 minutes to 39.2 minutes.
  • Community response is positive. Notable trends in the community member survey data suggest community members felt more positive about their community’s social cohesion and the number of safe places for kids to play and be active in their neighborhood.

This is exciting information as it shows that Space to Grow schoolyards are working! But the work is not done yet. The Space to Grow partners are working with Loyola University and the Nutrition Policy Institute at the University of California to conduct a larger, longitudinal study to investigate the links between green schoolyards and other outcomes including students’ behaviors, school attendance, teacher morale, frequency of schoolyard use, and neighborhood trust and safety.

Stay tuned for the results of that study!