Greenery promotes mental development in primary-aged children, study suggests

New research has shown the mental development of primary-aged children is affected by the amount of green space they can see from school.

Primary school children. Image: Morgue File
Primary school children. Image: Morgue File
The research was reported in the USA journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. It found "an improvement in cognitive development associated with surrounding greenness, particularly with greenness at schools".

While green space is already known to improve mental and physical health, there has until now been little research into the impact of green space on children’s learning.

The 12-month study tracked the mental development of 2,593 children aged 7 to 10 from 36 primary schools across Barcelona. Children were tested every three months for cognitive development including memory and attention span.

The study also used satellite data to work out how much green space each child was exposed to, at home, school and while commuting.

Researchers found green space within 50 metres of a school enhanced children's working memory by 5 per cent on average and problem-solving speed by 6 per cent on average. 

Improvements were also associated with "total surrounding greenness" including around the home, school and during the child's commute.

While some of this effect was attributed to lower pollution rates, which are already known to impact children’s development, that did not tell the full story.

Adding the effects of a reduction in carbon pollution to the models explained between 20 and 65 per cent of the association between green space and children’s mental development - leaving at least 35 per cent of the effect unexplained by pollution levels.

The researchers suggested the effect could be due to higher average physical activity levels among children who spent time in gardens and parks, as well as exposure to bacteria which helped with brain development.

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