Why 21st Century Children Need Nature

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

Networking Reception, 4:00 - 4:30 pm  |  Presentation, 4:30 - 6:00 pm
The Presidio  |  Observation Post  |  211 Lincoln Blvd  |  San Francisco, CA 


Green Schoolyards America and The Presidio Trust invite you to join us for an inspiring afternoon presentation and discussion with our visiting keynote speaker, Prof. David Sobel, who will talk about the importance of nature play for 21st century children. His presentation will blend research and case studies to illustrate the connections between nature play opportunities and physical, social and emotional development of children and youth. Examples will be drawn from the outdoor environments of schools, parks, and the wider community, and will also discuss ways to help children fall in love with nature and be inspired to be stewards of our shared environment. David will also share best practices for designing and managing nature play areas that give children a wide range of active and creative play choices to help them build deeper relationships with one another and the natural world.


David Sobel is Senior Faculty in the Education Department at Antioch University New England in Keene, NH. He consults and speaks widely on child development and place-based education with schools, environmental organizations and the National Park Service. Over the last 30 years, he has authored seven books and more than 60 articles focused on children and nature for educators, parents, environmentalists and school administrators. His work has helped to shape school and park programs across the USA and around the world.


This event is offered free of charge. Please RSVP using this link: http://bit.ly/SobelTalk

Questions? Contact Sharon Danks at info (at) greenschoolyards.org

This event is co-hosted by The Presidio Trust and Green Schoolyards America. The reception is hosted by Cities Connecting Children & Nature San Francisco.

Semestre de Primavera: Animales en el Jardin!

Green Schoolyards America is proud to feature Living Schoolyard Month celebrations that were held in May across the state of California. If you celebrated and would like to be featured here, send photos and a brief description to info [at] greenschoolyards [dot] org. 

Los estudiantes de Kinder aprendieron todo sobre los insectos! Aprendieron todas las partes de un insecto, y observaron insectos diferentes en el jardin. Hicimos insectos con frutas y verduras para ayudarnos recordar todas las partes! 

En 1 y 2 grado, los estudiantes aprendieron sobre los hábitats. Hablamos de los animales que pueden vivir en nuestro jardin (el hábitat!) como aves, abejas y mariquitas. Al final, cada estudiante inventó un animal especialmente adaptado a vivir en nuestro hábitat jardín!

En 3 y 4 grado, aprendimos de adaptaciones, y observamos las adaptaciones físicas y de comportamiento de animales en el jardín. Discutimos adaptaciones como camuflaje y partes especiales del cuerpo. En una de las actividades, los estudiantes intentaban comer como pájaros con picos especialmente adaptadas! 

Ha sido una primavera llena de la ciencia en el jardín!

Kindergarten students learned all about insects! They learned all the parts of an insect, and observed different insects in the garden. We made insects out of fruits and vegetables to help us remember all parts!

In 1st and 2nd grade, students learned about habitats. We talked about the animals that can live in our garden (our habitat!) such as birds, bees, and ladybugs. At the end, each student invented an animal specially adapted to live in our habitat garden!

In 3rd and 4th grade, we learned about adaptations and observed the physical and behavioral adaptations of animals in the garden. We discussed adaptations like camouflage and special parts of the body. In one of the activities, students tried to eat like birds with beaks specially adapted!It has been a spring full of science in the garden!

It has been a spring full of science in the garden! 

Written and photographed by Joanna Johnson, Mission Education Center, Education Outside

San Francisco, California

Join us in Sacramento on May 18th!

The State Water Resources Control Board is hosting the STORMS Seminar Series to share the latest reports, studies, and policies in the world of stormwater to an audience of both governmental and public interests, as a way to support their mission of promoting stormwater as a valuable resource.

The next STORMS Seminar Series event, Living Schoolyards for Stormwater Management, will be hosted at the CalEPA Building (1001 I Street) on Wednesday, May 18th, 10 am to noon. 

Sharon Danks, CEO of Green Schoolyards America, and author of Asphalt to Ecosystems will be presenting on coupling green schoolyards with stormwater management to improve children’s wellbeing while repairing urban ecological systems and enhancing water quality and supply. 

Jeff Vincent, deputy director and cofounder of the Center for Cities + Schools, will explore the policies, funding, and perceptional barriers associated with the opportunities for improved stormwater management.

Please RSVP using this link: bit.ly/STORMS_May18th

The event will also be available via webcast at: www.calepa.ca.gov/broadcast

Announcing three new Activity Guides!

We are very excited to present the 2016 Living Schoolyard Activity Guide - Midwest Edition, designed to help schools use their grounds to the fullest during the month of May and year-round. This publication includes a total of 38 schoolyard activity ideas from 33 organizations working in the Midwest!

The 2016 Living Schoolyard Activity Guide - California Edition is based on the Activity Guide we began last year and is newly expanded with additional ideas from across the state—it now includes a total of 59 schoolyard activity ideas from 55 California-based organizations!

The International School Grounds Month Activity Guide was produced in collaboration with our colleagues at the International School Grounds Alliance. It is based on the Activity Guide we began in 2013 and is newly expanded—the 2016 edition now includes a total of 50 schoolyard activity ideas from 37 organizations working in 17 countries!

Together the three Activity Guide publications include a total of 147 activity ideas from 123 organizations! We hope that you will use these free resources to take full advantage of your school grounds in May—and throughout the year!

Join us for a Free Presentation in Petaluma, California!


Please join us for an inspiring slideshow about the ways in which innovative school districts around the world are using their land to create engaging, educational spaces for children while also improving the local environment. 

After the presentation we will have a lively discussion—with participation from the audience—to explore how to create living schoolyards across Petaluma that dovetail with existing educational programs and regional ecological planning efforts.

April 20th, 4:30-6:30pm / Valley Vista School, Petaluma, CA

RSVP here! 

Green Schoolyards America featured in the Mountain View Voice!

Sharon Danks, Green Schoolyards America’s CEO, was honored to speak with the Mountain View Whisman School District’s school board at their meeting this month. Her presentation described the benefits of greening school grounds for both children and the local environment, and generated a lively dialogue. The Mountain View Voice published an article reporting on the event:

The Mountain View Whisman School District’s school board got a glimpse last week of what it would be like to bring green space and wildlife habitats to students and ditch the traditional cement-and-asphalt campuses.

… “Why study watersheds in a book when you can go outside and see where the rain goes when it falls, and how it travels from your rooftop here at your school to the local creek,” Danks said.

The California Department of Education appears to be on the same page. In September, state Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson announced a new plan for improving student instruction by introducing “environmental literacy,” which is intended to help students understand the importance of environmental stewardship in the face of climate change, wildfires and drought. The Blueprint suggests that schools provide at least 40 hours per school year of outdoor school time, and that school officials set aside 5 percent of bond funds for “multi-use outdoor ecological learning environments on school grounds.”

Danks later told the Voice that there are plenty of options on the table that are revenue-neutral, provided school districts are willing to acknowledge environmental education as a priority. It could be as simple as tearing out asphalt for construction of a new playground, and leaving it out once construction is complete, in favor of green space, she said.

Read the entire article here.

A Win for Sustainable Schools as part of California Climate Investment Plan

California’s climate action law (AB32) includes an innovative market-based mechanism to lower greenhouse gas emissions called “cap and trade.” The California Air Resources Board, in collaboration with a number of state agencies, is organizing investment strategies for the next three years. In the first draft investment plan, schools were not included as investment priorities and were not eligible for most of the funding programs.

Today, December 17th, Katrina Ortiz from Green Schoolyards America and Deborah Moore from Green Schools Initiative spoke at the California Air Resources Board’s public hearing about their 2016-19 second draft investment plan. 

Katrina spoke first, emphasizing the enormous potential for schools to address climate issues today by updating their grounds, and in the future by teaching students about stewardship and the environment. 

Deborah ended her testimony by sharing drawings and reading a letter from 3rd graders about how they want a “future school”— including solar panels, trees, compost heaps and a car with flowers coming out of the tailpipe. She’s a tough act to follow, but it was amazing to see all of the different advocacy efforts at work. 

We’re proud to report that our schools coalition was well represented at this hearing in Sacramento. We were joined by Ian Padilla of Coalition for Adequate School Housingand Anna Ferrera of School Energy Coalition

The ARB board was engaged with our work, and in this second draft schools were included as potential recipients of ARB funds where they had not been previously. We hope that moving forward, ARB will find a way to consolidate grant applications so that the barriers to entry are lower to truly include schools in reducing our state’s greenhouse gas emissions.

California is one step closer towards schools that are healthier for students and also resilient to the environmental challenges facing us today. 

Upcoming Midwest Activity Guide

We’re happy to report that we now have 26 Midwest organizations on board to contribute activities to the 2016 Living Schoolyard Activity Guide - Midwest Edition!

We’re glad that so many amazing organizations from across Wisconsin, Illinois, Michigan, Indiana, Ohio and Iowa have joined us so far. We’re looking forward to including more voices in the coming weeks!

As you may have heard, we’re in the midst of raising funds to make sure we are able to complete this guide—and we need your help! 

Want to help? Here’s how:

If you’re interested in writing an activity on behalf of your organization or school, email: katrina (at) greenschoolyards (dot) org

Thanks so much to the donors who have already contributed! Your contribution is growing the green schoolyard movement nationwide!


Research Pitch Champion!

From left to right: Bill Orr (Executive Director, CHPS), Sharon Danks (CEO, Green Schoolyards America), Bevin Ashenmiller (Associate Professor, Occidental College), Nate Allen (Center for Green Schools, U.S. Green Building Council) 

Great news! We were awarded a grant for our new research project to study the costs and benefits of city-wide green schoolyard programs! 

Green Schoolyards America’s CEO, Sharon Danks, and our partner, Prof. Bevin Ashenmiller (Occidental College) participated in a competitive research pitch in front of a live audience at the Research Summit on Childhood Health and School Buildings in Washington, DC last week—and WE WON! The event was hosted by the US Green Building Council, the Collaborative for High Performance Schools and the American Institute of Architects as part of their Green Build conference. We are honored to be selected and look forward to beginning our work soon. 

California’s Brand New Environmental Literacy Initiative!

Green Schoolyards America is proud to announce California’s Environmental Literacy Plan! Yesterday, our CEO Sharon Danks attended the launch event in San Francisco. Legislators and educators from across the state came out to celebrate.

Sharon was on the Environmental Literacy Task Force that wrote the report, along with 46 other experts in the green school grounds and environmental education fields. This document emphasizes the importance of teaching kids about the world they live in and getting hands on experience in outdoor settings. Not only does getting outside support physical and mental health, it teaches us about the natural systems that support our everyday lives. 

We’re excited to see that the California Department of Education has recognized that hands-on, place-based education is vital to children’s development and learning, and necessary for a sustainable future.

Read the entire Blueprint here. Learn more about environmental education grants and initiatives in California schools here

Inspiring School Grounds Conference coming up in September!

Join us in Bali (September 28th - 30th, 2015) for the 4th International School Grounds Conference - the first of its kind to be held in AustralAsia. 

Visionary leaders of the school ground movement from Australia, New Zealand, Asia, Europe and North America will share their experiences, case studies and best practices. Participate in this exciting conference to learn more about cutting edge school grounds, meet like-minded colleagues and organizations from around the world, share ideas, tour fantastic local school grounds and be inspired to bring new ideas to your own community.

Learn more here.

Schoolyard Habitat Workshops for Teachers in San Diego

Green Schoolyards America is proud to feature Living Schoolyard Month celebrations that were held in May across the state of California. If you celebrated and would like to be featured here, send photos and a brief description to info (at) greenschoolyards (dot) org.  —GSA

Thanks to a grant from San Diego Gas & Electric (SDGE),SD Children and Nature, SD Master Gardeners and Rooted In Place Landscape Architecture and Consulting partnered to host two training workshops on Creating Schoolyard Habitats for Play and Learning. Over 50 teachers attended the workshops to learn about designing and utilizing schoolyard wildlife habitats. Three more workshops will be offered in the Fall. 

The workshops took place at San Diego Botanical Garden, Encinitas, CA and the Cuyamaca Water Conservation Garden.

Contributed by Ilisa Goldman (RLA, ASLA), Principal, Rooted In Place Landscape Architecture and Consulting; Board of Directors, SD Children and Nature
Photos by Ilisa Goldman

San Diego, CA

Spring Valley Elementary Builds Raised Garden Beds!

Green Schoolyards America is proud to feature Living Schoolyard Month celebrations that were held in May across the state of California. If you celebrated and would like to be featured here, send photos and a brief description to info (at) greenschoolyards (dot) org.  —GSA

Spring Valley community members and students ended the year by adding raised vegetable beds to their living schoolyard.

See more information on Spring Valley’s blog.

Contributed by Rachel Pringle, Senior Director of Programs, Education Outside
Photos by Taryn Colonnese, Education Outside Corps Member

San Francisco, CA

Students support native habitats in Fairfax, California

Each year we plant about 400 acorns from trees in the school neighborhood. We participate in a Junior Botany program through Wildcare. The children learn to identify black oak, valley white oak, live oak, blue oak and tan oak. We take care of the baby oak trees until they are ready to plant. We share our baby trees with anyone who wants to plant one in their yard or for a restoration. 

Observing our native bees in our “Ishi, Bee, Bird and Butterfly Sanctuary" 

Fourth graders observing our visiting cliff swallows. We are so excited to welcome the cliff swallows each March. Now in May we watch the parents catch flying insects and bring them to the nests to feed their babies. 


A close look to identify our very own "Live Bee”

Green Schoolyards America is proud to feature Living Schoolyard Month celebrations that were held in May across the state of California. If you celebrated and would like to be featured here, send photos and a brief description to info (at) greenschoolyards (dot) org.  —GSA

Contributed by Laura Dax Honda, Teacher, Manor Elementary School
Photos by Laura Dax Honda

Fairfax, CA

Living Classroom in Santa Rosa

Green Schoolyards America is proud to feature Living Schoolyard Month celebrations that were held in May across the state of California. If you celebrated and would like to be featured here, send photos and a brief description to info (at) greenschoolyards (dot) org.  —GSA

The Riebli School garden is more than learning about gardening. The garden and the standards based curriculum gives students and teachers a common thread that builds school-wide community, provides hands-on learning experiences, and nurtures school pride. The garden curriculum is diverse and covers all areas of study: nutrition, science, math, social studies, art and language arts. 

This year we celebrated our “Living Classroom” with a Spring Harvest Party serving over 500 students. This year’s menu included green salad with fresh herbs and nasturtiums, kale chips, lettuce veggie wraps, pea panzanella salad, green garden smoothies, strawberry and radish relish, and baby carrots. To conclude our celebration of the Living School Yard Month we invited Riebli families to a “Farm Stand” where the garden provided school families produce and recipes from the Harvest Party to take home and enjoy.

More information about John B. Riebli Charter School can be found here.

Contributed by Tina Thomas, Garden Coordinator, The Riebli School
Photos courtesy John B. Riebli Charter School

Santa Rosa, CA

Insect Hotel in Indianapolis

Green Schoolyards America is proud to feature Living Schoolyard Month celebrations that were held in May across the state of California. If you celebrated and would like to be featured here, send photos and a brief description to info (at) greenschoolyards (dot) org.  —GSA

IPS/ Butler University Lab School (Lab School) teacher Marielle Slagel discovered her students’ immense curiosity about insects when one student brought a cicada shell to show and tell. The class was so excited that Ms. Slagel developed a project to learn more about cicadas. This project expanded and eventually included the study of other insects and their habitats.

Bay Tree Design (BTD) has been consulting with Butler Lab School on their greening efforts. Last fall, BTD presented innovative solutions for living schoolyards to parents and students. Students also participated in a hands-on design workshop to solicit their ideas and dreams for their schoolyard. Ms. Slagel’s students took a particular interest in the slide about insect hotels. The school was considering some improvements around this time, especially at their entrance — the existing chain link fence was not particularly inviting.

Ms. Slagel asked her students if they wanted to replace the fence with a home for pollinating insects. The students heartily agreed and used class time to design a structure that would be insect-friendly. This May, students and parent volunteers built the project. The new entrance creates a welcoming space for the local human and insect communities.

Contributed by Ron Smith, Principal, IPS/Butler University Lab School.
Photos by Ron Smith.

Indianapolis, IN

Students Grow their Salad at Miraloma Elementary

Green Schoolyards America is proud to feature Living Schoolyard Month celebrations that were held in May across the state of California. If you celebrated and would like to be featured here, send photos and a brief description to info (at) greenschoolyards (dot) org.  —GSA

First graders celebrated their last class in the Miraloma garden by harvesting kale, lettuce, fava bean leaves, borage flowers and kale flowers to make a garden salad. Students expertly picked leaves without ripping the entire plant from the ground and tore the leaves into bite-sized pieces. The salad was dressed with rice vinegar, soy sauce, and toasted sesame oil. Overall, students enjoyed the salad and proclaimed that it was better than junk food (a perfect way to end the school year).

More information on Miraloma Elementary’s Blog.

Contributed by Rachel Pringle, Senior Director of Programs, Education Outside
Photos by Sierra Flynn, Education Outside Corps Member

San Francisco, CA

The Green Team Composts & Recycles during Lunch

Green Schoolyards America is proud to feature Living Schoolyard Month celebrations that were held in May across the state of California. If you celebrated and would like to be featured here, send photos and a brief description to info (at) greenschoolyardsamerica.org.  —GSA

Students at Manor Elementary School volunteer to be on The Green Team! They’re in charge of compost, yard waste and recycling at lunch time, supporting their school’s efforts to recycle and reduce waste. 

Students clean up their nature trail, while also playing Trash math. Under the teacher’s supervision math games are incorporated into clean up efforts.

Students learn to use scientific instruments while doing an energy audit of their school. 

Contributed by Laura Dax Honda, Teacher, Manor Elementary School
Photos by Laura Dax Honda

Fairfax, CA


National Green Schoolyard Summit in Chicago

Green Schoolyards America was represented at the National Green Schoolyard Summit in Chicago on May 12th and 13th. Sharon Danks gave a joint presentation with Professor Bevin Ashenmiller (from Occidental College) about their ongoing cost-benefit analysis of green schoolyards.

More information on National Green Schoolyard Summit’s website.

View Dr. Bevin Ashenmiller & Sharon Dank’s slide presentation here.