July 24, 2015

Nature Can Make Kids Smarter

The famous naturalist Henry David Thoreau once wrote, “When we walk, we naturally go to the fields and woods: What would become of us, if we walked only in a garden or a mall?”

Walden Pond where Henry David Thoreau penned his famous book on the value of spending time in nature.

Walden Pond where Henry David Thoreau penned his famous book on the value of spending time in nature.

I could venture a guess, as I know a handful of people who spend far too much time in malls. However, I’d much prefer to focus on the benefits enjoyed by those who spend time rambling, instead, in the great outdoors.

Anyone who has wandered into the woods, taken a leisurely stroll along the beach, or even sat in the shade of an expansive oak, has most likely felt the positive effects of nature. Spending time in nature helps settle the mind, reduce stress, and establish a physical equilibrium. Place yourself in a natural setting and it is likely that whatever issues have been troubling you will suddenly seem trivial. Since I was young, I have been aware of this healing power, but Mother Nature’s good vibrations may actually do far more than just lift the spirits, especially in the case of children.

You can't deny the good feeling that comes over you in the presence of nature's spectacular beauty.

You can’t deny the good feeling that comes over you in the presence of nature’s spectacular beauty.

A recent study suggests that green space around schools—grasslands, trees, and plants—might actually make kids smarter. How’s that for added value? Not only does nature make you feel good, it can improve your brain function, as well.

The following is an excerpt from Olga Khazan’s article in The Atlantic, dated June 16, 2015:

“A new study out Monday in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences suggests that green spaces can actually boost cognitive outcomes in children—in part by protecting their brains from air pollutants. For the large study involving 2,623 schoolchildren in Barcelona, researchers first assessed the amount of greenery around the children’s homes, along their commutes to school, and surrounding the schools themselves. They then measured the children’s working memories and attention spans using a series of word and number tests. The children who had more vegetation around their schools showed more progress in working memory and attention over the course of a year, a finding that held true even after the authors controlled for socioeconomic status. Not only did the plant life soak up much of the elemental carbon around the schools, the authors write, green spaces are also known to reduce city noise and stress while increasing opportunities for exercise.”

So, just in case any of us needed an additional reason to encourage young people (and adults) to connect with nature, there you have it—simply surrounding ourselves with green space might just make us happier, more intelligent, and thus, better people.

I, for one, am sold.