Center for Research Strategies
Evaluation of the Learning Landscapes Playground
All of these nine schools are located in inner-city locations where poverty is high (an average of 92% of all students qualify for the free or reduced lunch program). The project sought to determine whether the Learning Landscapes' objectives were achieved.
Interviews with Principals
Through face-to-face interviews, principals at each of the nine participating elementary schools indicated that they are uniformly enthusiastic about the playgrounds and believe that these enhanced play areas help students to be more ready to learn, to interact in more socially acceptable ways and to be more connected to their schools. The principals also believe that through the playgrounds, community members have become more involved with the schools, helping to construct the playgrounds, using the facilities in after-school hours and more generally demonstrating a greater pride in the school and the community as a whole.
Positive benefits of the playgrounds were reported in the following areas:
- Reduced safety and disciplinary problems
- Improved student behavior
- Preliminary use of outdoor learning curricula
- Improved student attitudes toward school and increased readiness to learn
- Increase parental involvement
- Enhanced community pride and use of the playgrounds as “green spaces.”
- Teacher Surveys
Surveys were distributed to teachers in each of the nine schools. Fifty-six percent of the teachers (or 123) completed the surveys and confirmed that positive improvements had occurred in the schools in the areas of school/community environment, student behavior/performance, and parent/community involvement, as detailed below.
Center for Research Strategies.
This report examines the experience of nine elementary schools within the Denver Public School system where Learning Landscapes playgrounds have been installed since the Fall of 2000.
The Center for Research Strategies
This evaluation was designed to collect information from multiple sources using a variety of data collection techniques.
- Principal interviews
- Teacher surveys
- Student focus groups
- Community surveys
A data tracking system has also been created to monitor the broader impacts of these playgrounds over time. Areas where benefits are expected to occur include: attendance, safety episodes, suspensions and graffiti repair. Changes in reading scores will also be tracked to determine the extent to which the playgrounds have an impact on student performance.
Areas where the most evident benefits of the playgrounds were reported were:
- The playground has improved the beauty of our community. (97% agreed)
- The playground provides areas that are developmentally appropriate for children to play. (90% agreed)
- The playground has created a green space in the community. (86% agreed)
- The new equipment promotes more creative play. (80% agreed)
- Children are more physically active during recess. (80% agreed)
- Students interact more with their peers during recess. (75% agreed)
Student Focus Groups
- Parents participated in building the playground. (79% agreed)
- Local community businesses contributed to the playground. (78% agreed)
- The community has a sense of pride in the playground. (77% agreed)
Six focus groups were held with 1st , 3rd and 5th graders in three of the Learning Landscape schools. A total of 74 students participated in these groups. The last group was conducted in Spanish. All of the students were very pleased with their new playgrounds and detailed their favorite types of equipment and the new games they enjoyed playing.
Students also recognized that the new playgrounds were safer and allowed them to spend more time with their friends in challenging ways. They reported that they used the playgrounds during after-school hours and felt proud about having the “best” playground in the area. Several children also indicated that they had a sense of ownership of the playgrounds and wanted to keep them clean and un-littered.
Surveys were sent home to the parents of 4,639 students in the Learning Landscape schools. Of these, 26 percent (or 1,189) were returned. Nearly three-quarters of the parents (or 73%) reported using the playgrounds and roughly a quarter (or 23%) had participated in their construction. Close to half of the parents responding (or 43%) say that they are more involved with other activities that involve the playground than they were before.
Specific benefits of the playgrounds as perceived by the parents were:
- The community has a sense of pride in the playground. (77% agreed)
- The playground has fostered a stronger sense of community identity. (72% strongly agreed)
- The playground is a focal point for the community. (68% strongly agreed)
- The community has developed a sense of ownership for the new playground. (66% agreed)
- The connection with the community is stronger because of the construction process. (62% agreed)
Since most of the Learning Landscape playgrounds have been in place for less than one year, longer term impacts on student behavior and performance cannot yet be observed. In other communities with similar playgrounds, students have been observed to be more attentive after having had play opportunities, to be more willing to attend school and to have improved test scores. 
The principal of one Learning Landscape school has reported improved attendance, a drop in safety incidents, a lower number of disciplinary infractions and some improvement in test scores. While similar data have been compiled for the nine Learning Landscape schools examined for this report, overall trends in these areas are too early to observe.
The findings of this evaluation report confirm that the Learning Landscape playgrounds are widely recognized as providing an array of benefits by creating more attractive “green spaces” at the schools, safer playground environments and landscapes that cause community members to have pride in their schools.
Principals and teachers report positive benefits from the playgrounds because children are more active and creative during their recess periods. Since the playgrounds were designed to serve as outdoor classrooms, they also offer opportunities for outdoor and experiential learning, particularly as more schools adopt appropriate curricula and use the playgrounds in this manner.
Other playground benefits reported include the value of encouraging children to be more ready to learn because they have been more physically active and to feel more connected to their schools. Within this report, students expressed their pride in their new playgrounds. Teachers and principals also confirm that student behavior has improved with fewer disciplinary problems being reported.
Of broader significance is the confirmation by parents that the new playgrounds have increased their pride in their schools and have instilled a stronger sense of community identity. Because increased parent involvement in schools has been reported in the literature as one of the most important predictors of student performance,  the value of playgrounds as a means of connecting parents to their children’s schools is particularly important.
Within the short period of time during which the playgrounds have been in operation, our evaluation report shows that these improved outdoor environments have had clear positive benefits in a number of important areas. We anticipate that over time the broader value of these playgrounds will be more readily measurable, particularly in the areas of student behavior and performance, in parental involvement and in community pride and connection to local neighborhood schools.
For more information about this project, please contact Lois A. Brink firstname.lastname@example.org at 720-939-5194 or Rachel Cleaves Rachel.email@example.com at 303-556-5909.
 Lewis, M. (2001) Facility conditions and student test performance in the Milwaukee Public Schools. Council of Educational Facility Planners International .
 Epstein, J.L. (1995) School, family, community partnerships: Caring for the children we share. Phi Delta Kappan , 77(9), pp. 701-12, May, 1995.