Greening the Outdoor Classroom: Bringing Nature to School Campuses

Thursday, May 20, 2021 | 10:00 – 11:30 AM

Increased use of outdoor learning spaces is top of mind for schools due to limitations posed by Covid-19 on indoor classroom use. In addition to reducing virus risks, outdoor learning benefits students’ social, emotional, and mental well-being. Research shows that trees and gardens create better learning environments for students by alleviating mental fatigue, improving attention, and encouraging hands-on learning outdoors — all of which can bolster academic performance.

In this webinar, learn strategies for bringing trees and nature to school campuses and students of all ages. Find out how to design for success by anticipating roadblocks, identifying feasible opportunities, and engaging with key stakeholders.

Speaker Resources

Jaime Zaplatosch, Director of Green Schoolyards for Healthy Communities, Children & Nature Network

Presentation Slides

Email Jaime

Lauren Freels, Landscape Architect, Bay Tree Design

Presentation Slides

Email Lauren

Devon Conley, Board President, Mountain View Whisman School District

Presentation Slides

Email Devon

Additional Resources


Becker, C., Lauterbach, G., Spengler, S., Dettweiler, U., & Mess, F.. (2017). Effects of regular classes in outdoor education settings: A systematic review on students’ learning, social and health dimensions. International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, 14. doi:

Benfield, J. A.; Rainbolt, G. N.; Bell, P. A.; Donovan, G. H. 2015. Classrooms with nature views: Evidence of differing student perceptions and behaviors. Environment and Behavior. 47(2): 140-157.

Kuo M, Barnes M and Jordan C (2019) Do Experiences With Nature Promote Learning? Converging Evidence of a Cause-and-Effect Relationship. Front. Psychol. 10:305. doi: 10.3389/fpsyg.2019.00305

Kuo, Ming & Klein, Samantha & Browning, Matthew & Zaplatosch, Jaime. (2020). Greening for academic achievement: Prioritizing what to plant and where. Landscape and Urban Planning. 206. 10.1016/j.landurbplan.2020.103962.

Kweon, Byoung-Suk & Ellis, Christopher & Lee, Junga & Jacobs, Kim. (2017). The link between school environments and student academic performance. Urban Forestry & Urban Greening. 23. 10.1016/j.ufug.2017.02.002.

Li, D., Chiang, Y. – C., Sang, H., & Sullivan, W. C.. (2019). Beyond the school grounds: Links between density of tree cover in school surroundings and high school academic performance. Urban Forestry & Urban Greening, 38, 42-53. doi:

Li, Dongying & Sullivan, William. (2016). Impact of views to school landscapes on recovery from stress and mental fatigue. Landscape and Urban Planning. 148. 149-158. 10.1016/j.landurbplan.2015.12.015.

Matsuoka, R. H. (2010). Student performance and high school landscapes: Examining the links. Landscape and Urban Planning, 97(4), 273-282.

Nancy M. Wells, Beth M. Myers, Lauren E. Todd, Karen Barale, Brad Gaolach, Gretchen Ferenz, Martha Aitken, Charles R. Henderson, Jr, Caroline Tse, Karen Ostlie Pattison, Cayla Taylor, Laura Connerly, Janet B. Carson, Alexandra Z. Gensemer, Nancy K. Franz & Elizabeth Falk (2015) The Effects of School Gardens on Children’s Science Knowledge: A randomized controlled trial of low-income elementary schools, International Journal of Science Education, 37:17, 2858-2878, DOI: 10.1080/09500693.2015.1112048

Sivarajah S, Smith SM, Thomas SC (2018) Tree cover and species composition effects on academic performance of primary school students. PLoS ONE 13(2): e0193254.

Tallis H, Bratman GN, Samhouri JF and Fargione J (2018) Are California Elementary School Test Scores More Strongly Associated With Urban Trees Than Poverty? Front. Psychol. 9:2074. doi: 10.3389/fpsyg.2018.02074

Find more studies through the Children and Nature Network’s Research Library.

Design Guides, Maps, and Tools

Plants for Living Schoolyards: SF Bay Area by Bay Tree Design, Inc., Trees for Oakland, and Stop Waste

Schools that Heal: Design with Mental Health in Mind by Claire Latane

Asphalt to Ecosystems: Design Ideas for Schoolyard Transformation by Sharon Gamson Danks

SelecTree – This is an online tool designed to help you select “the right tree for the right place.” It is created and maintained by the Urban Forest Ecosystems Institute at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo.

Urban Tree Canopy Map of California – This interactive viewer from the USDA Forest Service shows urban tree canopy in California.

CalEnviroScreen – This map identifies California communities by census tract that are disproportionately burdened by, and vulnerable to, multiple sources of pollution.

How to Plant a Tree Video – Canopy’s step-by-step guide for planting trees

Trees and Water – Canopy’s tips for saving water and saving trees

California State Regulations

2019 CA Green Building Standards Code (page 37) – The Division of the State Architect (DSA) amended the requirements for shade trees over surface, landscape, and hardscape areas in 2019.

Guide to School Site Analysis and Development, CA Department of Education

Title 5, California Code of Regulations – This excerpt relates to school facilities construction.

Organizations that Support School Greening

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