Masters Theses

Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Master of Landscape Architecture


Landscape Architecture

Major Professor

Garry Menendez

Committee Members

John McRae, Mark Fly


Currently, a vast majority of elementary aged children are nature deficient. [1] They attend six to eight hours of school five days a week, have limited independent outdoor access due to safety concerns (example: congested neighborhoods with high traffic volume, a fear of being kidnapped, crime rates), health concerns like asthma, and spending more time indoors with technology devices. Richard Louv, author of Last Child in the Woods, explains, "Nature-deficient disorder describes human costs of alienation from nature, among them: diminished use of the senses, attention difficulties, and higher rates of physical and emotional illnesses." [2] This lack of experiences by children with nature causes them to use less brain coordination: conceptual (mental/senses), social [3], analytical [4], and structural[5] (one thing built upon another).

In addition, a natural environment may be improved by preserving green spaces around established neighborhood settings, enhancing existing areas within a schoolyard (green areas around school buildings), and preserving natural open spaces for directed learning experiences by children using the senses as a key to maintaining and improving health. According to the National Wildlife Federation, "American childhood’s move indoors profoundly impacts the health and wellness of kids. It is not just a sad loss of innocence: a detachment from all things growing and green. It is a serious public health issue." [6] While being outdoors, students are physically energized, socialized, and relieved of mental stress. The health and social development of children may be improved by interaction with nature. Learning by children improves with hands-on experience with nature. [7]

The goal of this thesis is to suggest methods for increasing interaction of elementary school children with the natural environment on school grounds by designing ecological areas for green outdoor spaces and preserving, enhancing, and protecting natural existing areas to foster physically, mentally, and socially healthy students. A further goal is to identify, explore, and design a conceptual master plan for a prototype schoolyard for place-based education in Knoxville, Tennessee.

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