Newark, NJ – January 16, 2008

NJIT’s Center for Architecture and Building Science Research (CABSR) has published a report that explores ways of enhancing outdoor play and learning through more effective schoolyard design. The report, titled “Schoolyard Planning and Design in New Jersey,”  was developed jointly by CABSR and Education Law Center at the request of the New Jersey Department of Education (DOE). An advisory body (the “New Jersey Outdoor Area Working Group”), consisting of designers, educators, engineers, and others was convened to provide oversight and guidance to the development of the report. Support for the project was provided through a grant from the Geraldine R. Dodge Foundation.

Research has shown the critical importance of well-designed schoolyards in the cognitive, physical, social and emotional development of children. Despite their significance, many schoolyards are designed with little more than off-the-shelf manufactured play equipment, few specialized areas for play/learning, and without integration into the educational program of the school as a whole. As contributing writer, ELC’s Joan Ponessa said: “Such a basic, one-size-fits-all approach is wholly inadequate to meet the developmental needs of children. Schoolyards can and must be more than simply places for students to run around during recess.”

The report provides five recommended strategies for creating more thoughtful and more effective schoolyards in New Jersey.

  • The DOE should require district Boards of Education to develop district-wide policies governing the planning and design of outdoor space to accommodate all play levels and all sports;
  • During project development, the DOE should require appropriate planning and design of outdoor space that reflects the district-wide policy and considers the specific circumstances and needs of a specific building in a specific location, including strategies for incorporating community input, security, priorities for outdoor play space, accessibility for special needs students, and sports activities;
  • DOE’s Facilities Efficiency Standards should be updated to include guidelines for outdoor space;
  • Legislation for school facilities funding should consider alternative strategies for developing school projects – including public-private partnerships, leasing arrangements, and mixed-use development – as a means to increase the availability and quality of play areas; and
  • The DOE should provide training to assist districts in the development of district outdoor space policies and in the planning of high quality schoolyards.

“We recognize that these are ambitious goals notes the report’s lead author, Herb Simmens, “but we really can’t afford not to achieve them. The research evidence is clear. High quality play areas – with a mix of spaces, environments and experiences – can have significant positive impacts on a wide variety of core developmental skills in children, including: creative thinking, problem solving, language development, social and emotional development, and the ability to focus. We need to stop thinking of play areas as “left-over” spaces and start designing them just as carefully as we design the school buildings they serve and support. If we do, children across the state will reap the benefits of something that may seem trivial, but is, in fact, critical to the process of “growing up” – outdoor play.”

Education Law Center Press Contact:
Joan Ponessa
Senior Facilities Consultant
voice: 856-439-0594

Share this post:

Press Contact:
Sharon Krengel
Director of Policy, Strategic Partnerships and Communications
973-624-1815, x240