How School Green Spaces Help Urban Students Thrive

The outdoor green spaces at Chicago City Day School in the heart of Chicago’s Lakeview neighborhood offer students community, creativity and an urban oasis.

Research has shown that access to school green spaces can have a positive impact on students. The chance to get outside and experience a tranquil, safe and enjoyable space is a boost to every age group – even the teachers.

Chicago City Day School has embraced this philosophy on its more than two-acre campus. Made up of four main areas, each with its own unique features, the school green spaces at City Day are a peaceful oasis in the heart of our busy city.

The school’s outdoor areas are all designed with a specific purpose in mind, says Chris Dow, Head of School for Chicago City Day School. “Our green spaces allow our students to engage with nature and the curriculum simultaneously. The outdoor environment is an extension of our classrooms.”

Nurturing minds outdoors

At Chicago City Day School, the outdoor green spaces offer not only a tranquil environment, they also enhance students’ educational experiences and cross-curricular activities.

“Our green spaces offer so many ways for students to enhance their learning and express their creativity,” says Dow. “On nice days, you might find a reading class taking place outside by our koi pond. Other classes may be learning about life cycles in our monarch butterfly habitat. Another group of students might be working at one of our outdoor art easels.”

The natural divisions of the landscape separate the spaces so that many students can be outdoors learning at once. Plus, school green spaces are the perfect place to foster creativity and contemplation, says Dow.

“Recently we had author Lizzie Waterworth visit our school and she took each class to a different section of our outdoor space. These environments provided serene backdrops for open discussion about her book, which features City Day. This was a great way to incorporate the outdoors into literary learning and discussion.”

But, it’s not just about traditional subjects in the school green spaces at Chicago City Day School.

“Our outdoor spaces give students a place to be either active and challenged or peaceful and contemplative. There’s something for everyone” Dow says. “For example, our two playgrounds and outdoor basketball court buzz with energy and excitement while some students may want to sit and read near the pond. We even have ducks and bunnies in our green spaces. It feels very suburban while still sitting in the heart of the city. City schools usually can’t offer these kinds of opportunities to sit and be in nature.”

Innovative playground reflects school philosophy

Chicago City Day School’s new playground is an exciting addition to its outdoor area. Created by a Finnish company, the playground features a unique geometric design. It also sports the school’s colors – red, black and white.

“We wanted our new playground to support our students in play but also mimic what we do academically,” says Dow. “At Chicago City Day School, we encourage kids to take risks within the safety of the school space and that’s what this playground is all about. The design can make it feel a little bit risky to explore, but it is also a very safe place for kids to play.”

Community building

“We are a small school by design and we need communal spaces,” says Dow. “What’s great is that our outdoor space is large enough to host events like our Fall Fest which features a petting zoo, pony rides and all kinds of outdoor attractions. We love having the space to do that.”

While the outdoor spaces are places of much-needed play and fun, they also provide students with more low-key communal activities. This can include things like the eighth graders reading to their kindergarten reading buddies. 

In addition, the space is large enough to accommodate both a multi-grade recess as well as spaces for specific grade and age levels to safely congregate while they play. “We don’t have to have the younger kids playing in the sandbox right next to the eighth graders’ ball game,” Dow says. “They each have their own areas.”

Dow believes that providing well-designed and well-maintained space gives students a sense of pride about their school. “Because the outside spaces are so beautiful, the kids take pride in them and want to keep them that way,” he says. “It teaches them a sense of responsibility.”

Ultimately, Dow believes that the natural stress-busting effect of the school green spaces at Chicago City Day School is something that benefits the entire campus.

“One of the best things about our outdoor spaces is that they give all of us a chance to breathe some fresh air, refresh and regroup,” notes Dow. “We can have that peaceful moment even with the busy city of Chicago all around us.”

Learn more about Chicago City Day School at chicagocityday.org.

Jennifer Kales
Jennifer Kales
Content editor Jennifer Kales has been in the business of writing for more than 20 years creating advertising copy, blogs, books and everything in between. She loves helping Chicago Parent clients tell their stories in a way that resonates with audiences.

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