A Greenprint for Transforming Schoolyards as Places for Student Well-being

Room: D137-138

Audience: Architects

Call to Action: This presentation will help school administrators, designers and policymakers to improve schoolyard design and promote student health and well-being in the following ways:

  • To urge stakeholders to prioritise investment in schoolyard design. Further resources are needed that identify how policies around secondary school facilities and student wellbeing frameworks can be translated into health-promoting design outcomes. This could be through the creation of audit tools for assessing the restorative capacity of existing schoolyard environments, as well as the provision of design guidelines to help inform the creation of new school grounds.
  • To undertake further schoolyard research. Disparities exist in student schoolyard perceptions and experiences – particularly among female and older students. Further research targeting those groups that are experiencing fewer wellbeing benefits from time on school grounds would assist in the identification and creation outdoor spaces that are better suited to their needs. In particular, the application of mental health tools to assess the perceived design impacts of schoolyards would help build evidence to campaign for greater investment in school grounds.
  • To prioritise student collaborators in future schoolyard design projects. The role of student preferences are often overlooked in schoolyard design processes, where design decisions are based on adult priorities around issues of maintenance, cost and liability. This research demonstrates the opportunity – and need – to incorporate student ideas and feedback through better co-design processes in ways that better interrogate the impact of designs on user experiences.

Abstract: In the face of rising adolescent mental health concerns, schoolyards can be a preventative tool to help students manage stress during the school day. However, it is unclear whether current designs adequately support the diverse and evolving needs of adolescents at a time when they are experiencing rapid emotional and physical change. This presentation discusses the types of schoolyards we currently have, want and need based on the knowledge and insights of those who know them best. Drawing on evidence collected over three years from schoolyard creators, managers and student users, this presentation aims to:

  • Identify restorative outdoor qualities essential for student health and well-being and evaluate the extent to which current schoolyard designs reinforce these attributes.
  • Explore tools like attention restoration theory to better understand schoolyard preferences and perceptions across different age groups and orientations.
  • Examine contextual factors influencing schoolyard quality, providing insights for planners, managers and designers to better address specific wellbeing needs of students.

Given the pivotal role of schoolyards in students’ physical, social and emotional development, their design profoundly impacts health, behaviour and school performance. By introducing new metrics that capture user experiences, perceptions and preferences, this research aims to guide improvements in schoolyard design where needed, fostering environments conducive to student well-being.

Learning Objectives:
The information covered in this presentation will guide multiple stages of schoolyard creation, including its programming and analysis, design and evaluation.

  1. Programming and analysis: Growing recognition of built environment impacts on human health expands the therapeutic potential of outdoor spaces. The declining mental health of adolescents – combined with their daily use of school grounds – uniquely positions schoolyards as a tool to support student wellbeing. The evidence presented will communicate the importance of schoolyard design in supporting adolescent mental health. A lack of perceived value, limited resourcing and the absence of co-design processes perpetuate a cycle of poor design outcomes. Poor metrics documenting the impact of these spaces in terms of student behaviours and design preferences are identified as contributing factors. In response, restorative schoolyard indicators and attributes are provided to help support the creation of positive outdoor experiences for students.
  2. Project design: The impacts of place and design highlight the importance of an adaptive approach to the creation of school grounds. This includes consulting with those who manage and use these spaces to identify the types of preferred experiences that are perceived to provide wellbeing benefits. As users, students provide a critical – yet often neglected – voice in identifying the types of meaningful site connections and desired interactions to include within proposed designs. Methods will be shared on ways of effectively engaging with students in schoolyard design processes.
  3. Project evaluation: Just as critical to the development of schoolyard spaces is their evaluation. The work bridges the gap between silos of health research and design practice by defining and measuring restorative qualities of secondary schoolyard landscapes. Attendees will be introduced to the use of attention restoration theory as a tool for understanding schoolyard preferences and perceptions among students, and use this as a tool for assessing the impact of existing and new schoolyards.
Dr. Gweneth Leigh
Dr. Gweneth Leigh
University of Canberra

Dr. Leigh is a writer, practitioner, curator and researcher of the built environment. With degrees in landscape architecture from Harvard and a PhD in Public Health from the University of Canberra, her work explores how school grounds can better meet student wellbeing needs. Her research has been given industry awards and featured on national broadcasts such as Radio National in Australia, published in The Sydney Morning Herald, Landscape Architecture Magazine and Landscape Architecture Australia.

Core Competency

Design of Educational Facilities
Acts as a resource to the design team in providing ongoing guidance and support to ensure that the emerging and ultimate design aligns with the established community vision, education goals, future programming, written design standards, best/next practices and education policy.

LearningSCAPES 2024 Conference in Portland, Oregon


Oregon Convention Center
777 NE Martin Luther King, Jr. Blvd, Portland, OR 97232


October 16-19, 2024


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+1 480.391.0840