Green schoolyards lower kids’ stress
Stress is not just for grown-ups. Kids get stressed as well, which is why play time is so important. It helps kids unwind and even perform better academically. Taking a break may not be enough, however. The environment also plays a key role. New research shows that time spent playing in schoolyards that feature natural habitats can reduce kids’ stress and short attention spans.
The research, published in the July issue of the journal Health & Place, found that schoolyards with natural terrain (dirt, trees, water features) enabled students to escape stress, improve their focus, build competence and form supportive social groups. The study also revealed that doing class assignments and even gardening in a natural setting provided stress relief as well.
“Many schools already offer stress management programs,” said lead study author Louise Chawla in a statement. “But they’re about teaching individuals how to deal with stress instead of creating stress-reducing environments,” added Chawla, associate director of the Children, Youth and Environments Center for Community Engagement in Boulder, Colo.
Researchers examined schools in Baltimore and throughout Colorado. They observed three groups of students:
- Elementary students during recess in wooded and built areas
- Fourth- through six-graders and how they used the natural environment for science and writing lessons
- High schoolers who volunteered for gardening or required school service or coursework.
The students themselves were also interviewed along with teachers, parents and school alumni.
Nearly 100 percent of the students observed during recess chose to play in the woods when they had a choice of going there, to an athletic field or to a playground. Teachers reported that after recess, students had longer attention spans.
Of the fourth- and sixth-graders, 25 percent used words such as “peaceful” and “calm” to describe the green area, and they found it to be a nice escape from classroom and home stress.
In the high school students group, nearly 50 percent described the gardening experience using terms such as “calm,” “peace” and “relaxation.” These students also cited four reasons they had such a positive response to the natural habitat:
- Being outdoors in fresh air
- Feeling connected to a natural living system
- Successfully caring for living things
- Having time for quiet self-reflection
“Schools are really prime sites for an ecological model of health and for building access to nature into part of the school routine as a health measure,” added Chawla.
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