Whereas attempts are being made in Limburg to tempt school children with healthy lunches and exercise programmes, in Belgium they are doing so by making playgrounds greener. “They are removing all flagstones from the schoolyards, sowing grass and all kinds of plants, dumping sand so that children can horse around, climb in trees and makes huts,” says professor Onno van Schayck, project leader of healthy primary schools of the future.
The green schoolyard will also be dealt with in education. “In the biology lessons, children will go outside to learn something about biodiversity, climate change, to look for beetles, like Jan Wolkers used to do in his own garden. You can also do a bird count. The effects on health and learning achievements have not yet been mapped out, but the school children seem to feel better and are enthusiastic.”
From next summer onwards, six primary schools in Belgian and Dutch Limburg are going to combine these green school playgrounds with the healthy lunches from the healthy primary schools. The universities of Maastricht and Hasselt will measure the results for more than a year.
The Belgian researchers have a great deal of expertise in the field of neurocognition and environmental economics, says Van Schayck. “They will use tests to measure what the effects of the extra greenery are on pupils’ concentration and attention span, what it costs and what it yields.”
It could mean savings for the healthy primary school, which is after all not really cheap, says Van Schayck. “You still need trained teachers on the playground for the exercise programme to watch and stimulate the children. Otherwise, they just stand talking to each other or sometimes even pestering each other. On a green playground, you may not need teachers, children will exercise naturally.”
The cost of the healthy primary school is more relevant than ever, because the House of Representatives adopted a motion in December to introduce the healthy primary school nationally. “If you were to only do that in schools in underprivileged areas, it would cost 40 million euro. If you want to introduce it into all schools, the costs would rise to a billion.”