School children feel that there is less bullying when the school playground is greener and incites to move more. This was revealed by a Wageningen study by Sjerp de Vries and Martin Goossen of Wageningen Environmental Research.
This primary school in Vleuten renovated its playground according to the guidelines of the government’s Healthy School programme. Photo Susanne van Rijn
For their research, Goossen and De Vries investigated four primary schools in Geleen, Haarlem, Sneek and Vleuten. These are four of the seventy schools around the Netherlands that recently had their playgrounds redecorated. This was financed by the Dutch Ministry of Health, Welfare and Sport within the Gezonde School (‘Healthy School’) programme. Boring spots full of concrete tiles were transformed into green squares with lots of playground equipment.
Goossen and De Vries questioned the children both before (2014) and after the redecoration. De Vries: ‘In addition to that, some of the children wore a mobility gauge and a GPS for a week. Results showed that the physical activity of children on two of the most radically changed playgrounds has somewhat increased.’ That is already a gain in itself. But more important than that, according to De Vries, is that the social atmosphere on a redecorated playground improves.
According to De Vries, the children indicated that they saw less quarrels and bullying on the renovated playgrounds. ‘It is probable that every child can find something to their liking on the new playground, thanks to a more varied offer of activities and resting spots. This variation would explain why bullying has decreased. A great advantage of that is that we have indications that the new playgrounds have also improved the atmosphere and work attitude within the classrooms.’
The conclusions drawn by De Vries and Goossen are not singular; similar studies have been performed in the past. The new results are in agreement with those of previous studies, and that is good news, according to De Vries: ‘That allows us to state with more certainty that the redecoration of a playground into a healthy playground can be an important tool in the fight against bullying.’
But is the effect of the reduction of bullying a lasting one? ‘A valid question, but not one we can answer based on the current study’, says De Vries. ‘A follow-up study is necessary for that, but there currently isn’t any money to perform one.’ He does hope that the research can be financed, because ‘every approach that reduces bullying in school is worth supporting.’