Studies linking the natural environment to better learning outcomes
Common sense tells us that trees are good for us. They provide shade, oxygen and filter out pollution. But did you know they may also be making your kids smarter?
It may sound far-fetched, but there is an abundance of studies linking the natural environment to better learning outcomes and, more recently, highlighting the positive association of trees close to schools.
In a large-scale US study of more than 50,000 grade six students, researchers found that the more “greenness” in and around a school, the better the standardised test scores in both math and reading.
When they looked at subgroups of green vegetation, such as trees, grasses, shrubs or farmlands, they found tree canopy was the strongest predictor of performance – even after controlling for multiple other variables like family income, sex, bilingual status and the school’s resources, size and location.
But how could this be possible? What is it about trees that could boost brainpower?
Experiments in schools have suggested that green settings and views can improve two key ingredients for academic success – concentration and motivation to learn – while also lowering levels of stress.
Another large study of 36 primary schools in Spain, following more than two and a half thousand students, aged 7-10, found superior increases in working memory and a greater reduction in inattentiveness over a 12-month period, associated with greenness within and around school boundaries.
That’s not all. Playgrounds featuring higher levels of vegetation encourage unstructured play – the type that fosters curiosity, imagination and problem-solving skills.
So as the debate rages about the risk of trees to children in schools, (an average of one death per 30 million student years), perhaps the more important question is how many more we should plant for their benefit?