Having “Green Space” at School Can Help Children Learn

Gelke Broersma [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

A new study suggests that children’s memory and processing skills may develop more quickly if they encounter “green spaces” like parks and playgrounds in their daily lives. Having green space at school particularly, was linked to an improvement in brain development among school aged children in Spain.

The Importance of Green Space for Children

Co-author of the study, Mark Nieuwenhuijsen of the Center for Research in Environmental Epidemiology in Barcelona states, “Children at schools with more green space around them, such as trees, shrubs and grass, have a better brain development than children at schools with less green space.”

Kristin Malecki, the assistant professor of population health sciences at the University of Wisconsin went on to add, “We know that living in neighborhoods with more green space has been associated with improved mental health in adults and kids. It is also associated with many positive health behaviors, such as physical activity.”

Providing a direct connection for children to enjoy nature is hard. Malecki stated, “It’s still unclear why and how these associations exist, and if greenness itself is causing improved health and mental health.”

The Study

In the recent study, researchers monitored around 2,600 Barcelona children between the ages of 7 and 10 years old. The children were studied for a year to see how their memory and attention developed, and then they were tested every three months.
Scientists were searching for a possible connection between the development of cognitive thinking skills and green space. Green space is defined as any space that has vegetation, whether it is around the child’s home, school or on their commute to school.

It was discovered that children who received more exposure to green space had greater gains, about 5 to 6 percent in terms of memory and about 1 percent in attentiveness, when compared to children surrounded by less green space. Working memory is the ability to decipher, sort and remember short-term information, it is imperative to learning skills such as reading and mathematics.

The results of the study were quite interesting, but it also contained some weaknesses. While Nieuwenhuijsen said researchers discovered “little to no evidence, “ of wealth having anything to do with boosting a child’s access to greenery and brain power, most of the children in the study came from educated families. More than half of the children’s mothers had a college education, but researchers noted it did not seem to skew the results. They also noted that poorer children may not have participated in the study.

It’s also entirely possible that parents with a larger focus on education are drawn to living in greener neighborhoods.

The results of the study makes one wonder, how does nature fuel a child’s brain? The scientists are currently not certain. However, they found indications that children with the fastest increasing brain development had the least exposure to environmental pollution and toxins. Further study is needed to determine the exact importance of green space and the impact it has on the development of cognitive skills in children.


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