I remember my childhood days at school. The building my elementary classrooms were in had banks of windows that gave us children a view of the playground. My middle school building also had banks of windows. One side of the building faced a street. The opposite side of the street was an undeveloped piece of property filled with trees. The other side of the building faced an open green space between our building and the cafeteria. Seeing how most children attend public schools that are constructed like prisons and windowless, my ancient, rural education now seems idyllic. And, according to new research, I am probably smarter than the current generation of institutionalized, educated youngsters because of it.
An Illinois research group has determined that by being able to see trees helped students refocus attention and cope with stress better. This study, specifically about the effect of trees on education, was an outgrowth of previous research about how green landscapes affected academic performance.
The original study separated control groups of students into two different learning environments. One classroom had no windows while another had windows that opened onto a green space. Stress and attention levels were recorded using physiological data such as body temperature and certain neurological markers. The students who had the green landscape view had better attention performance and more rapid recovery times from stressful experiences.
Illinois is not alone on discovering this link between green spaces and academic performance. Massachusetts has also delved into studying how greening up school surroundings will improve the performance of its students. And NASA even helped provide data via satellite imaging of green areas surrounding school grounds.
The Massachusetts study used criteria provided by an assessment group to determine the factors to consider when evaluating student performance with regard to the greenness of their environment. The group claims that forests are crucial to human survival because of:
- The life-sustaining gas exchange of oxygen and carbon dioxide;
- Restoration of ecosystem degradation;
- Increased human activity levels;
- Increased social activity;
- Reduction of psychological stress and the physical side effects of stress;
- Reduction of depression;
- Noise reduction factors;
- Positive effects on microclimates (urban spaces were cooler)
- Air pollution reduction.
In comparison studies of non-green urban neighborhoods and “greener” neighborhoods, it was discovered that greenness affects health, adult weight, birth weight, heart disease, stress and mortality. Experts then theorize that all of these positive environmental factors would then result in better student performance if their education environment was green.
Massachusetts students consistently score higher than the national average for other states in the United States. When researchers consulted NASA satellite imaging data, they observed the immediate greenness surrounding the public schools of Massachusetts as well as a buffer area that would contain the homes of the attending students. These children were geographically located in a green haven for academic excellence, having an advantage over the rest of America’s children.
What was discovered was a direct link to a student’s exposure to greenness that affected academic performance. Massachusetts performed better in English and Math than national averages, despite any other variables such as race and socio-economic factors. And, performance was better in Spring than in Fall. The green link to academic excellence is definitive.
For the sake of our children’s academic future, every parent should actively participate in greening up their neighborhood and local schools. Our children are our future.