Surround your kids with greenery and enough sunlight to improve their mental concentration and focus

Researchers at Cornell University, University of Illinois and University of Michigan have come to a similar conclusion through independent studies that surrounding kids with green play spaces and views of nature will allow them to function better, focus and concentrate better.

The relevant excerpts from the Scientific American article ” How Room Design Affects Your Work and Mood” by Emily Anthes are posted below:

“Although gazing out a window suggests distraction, it turns out that views of natural settings, such as a garden, field or forest, actually improve focus. A study published in 2000 by environmental psychologist Nancy Wells, now at Cornell University, and her colleagues followed seven- to 12-year-old children before and after a family move. Wells and her team evaluated the panoramas from windows in each old and new home. They found that kids who experienced the greatest increase in greenness as a result of the move also made the most gains on a standard test of attention. (The scientists controlled for differences in housing quality, which turned out not to be associated with attention.) Another experiment demonstrated that college students with views of nature from their dorm rooms scored higher on measures of mental focus than did those who overlooked entirely man-made structures.

Green play space may be especially beneficial for students with attention disorders. Landscape architect and researcher William Sullivan of the University of Illinois and his colleagues studied 96 children with attention deficit disorder (ADD). The scientists asked parents to describe their children’s ability to concentrate—say, on homework or spoken directions—after the kids engaged in activities such as fishing, soccer and playing video games in which they were exposed to varying amounts of greenery. “The parents reported that their children’s ADD symptoms were least severe after they’d been in or observing green spaces,” says Sullivan, whose results were published in 2001.

Such findings may be the result of a restorative effect on the mind of gazing on natural scenes, according to an idea developed by psychologists Stephen Kaplan and Rachel Kaplan, both at the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor. By this theory, the tasks of the modern world can engender mental fatigue, whereas looking out at a natural setting is relatively effortless and can give the mind a much needed rest. “A number of studies have shown that when people look at nature views, whether they’re real or projected on a screen, their ability to focus improves,” Stephen Kaplan says.

Nature views may be more rejuvenating than urban scenes are, Sullivan adds, because humans have an innate tendency to respond positively toward nature—an explanation dubbed the biophilia hypothesis. “We evolved in an environment that predisposes us to function most effectively in green spaces,” he says. In a December 2008 paper in Psychological Science, Stephen Kaplan also proposes that urban settings are too stimulating and that attending to them—with their traffic and crowds—requires more cognitive work than gazing at a grove of trees does.”

The article also says that having kids in schools or home environments without inadequate sunlight is tantamount to inducing jetlag symptoms in the child … and experiments with giving kids adequate sunlight have shown that adequate sunlight dosing “improve student outcomes”.

The article also covers other tips on providing an optimal classroom such as the arrangement of furniture. Apparently, the “semicircle configuration increased student participation, boosting the number of questions pupils asked. Other studies suggest that putting desks in rows encourages students to work independently and improves classroom behavior.” 

Finally, the article reports that researchers at the University of Georgias concluded in their 2001 report that “school design can account for between 10 and 15 percent of variation in elementary school students’ scores on a standardized test of reading and math skills”. 

By the way, the article was originally entitled “Building Around the Mind”.

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