Given the growing evidence showing that Nature Deficit Disorder is a real and increasing problem, having access to an environment that promotes learning for our children is extremely important and the schoolyard is a natural extension of that learning environment. It has been shown that children do and learn better when they can connect and interact with nature as much as possible. So why not make their outdoor space as green as possible? (Check out our other blog on the benefits of green schoolyards to children!)
Trees provide immediate benefits and services that last decades, if not centuries, after their planting, which is why choosing the right tree species is such an important decision. To ensure the tree remains strong and performs well in its environment, the tree selected must be adapted to its hardiness zone and the conditions of the planting site.
Urbanized areas, like schoolyards, inflict a lot of continuous stress on trees. These areas are often described as having compacted and dry soil with little nutrient content and an increased amount of road salt. The trees in these areas are also more vulnerable to disease, pests and damage. In a schoolyard environment, for example, students mill about every day, causing additional and recurring stress.
When it comes time to picking a tree or trees for your schoolyard, keep in mind the current site conditions so the proper tree species can be selected. Apply the principle of the right tree in the right place as each tree species possess specific morphological attributes (size, crown width, trunk diameter, root development). It is essential to know the space that the mature tree will occupy in order to determine the appropriateness of the planting site.
Besides making the environment more attractive, trees can also provide shade over those schoolyard play structures – a welcome and cooling reprieve from the heat on warm summer days. Deciduous trees (hardwoods) are good shade providers while also allowing the sun to warm up the soil in the winter when the leaves are gone. Hardwoods do require however more maintenance because their leaves have to be collected in the fall. Evergreens are great windbreaks all year long with their dense crowns and persistent needles. Trees adapted to moist soils are also a great option as they lower the humidity in the ground and makes the site more accessible.
As we’ve learned, considering surrounding environmental factors can nurture the right trees to grow, so too can the right trees and greenery nurture our children to grow! A win-win situation and one which allows both to bloom and branch out to its potential.