Natural-terrain schoolyards and activities reduce students’ stress

July 21, 2014

July 22, 2014                                                            Louise Chawla

          Maybe the path to better teaching and healthier children begins in the forest.

          According to a new CU-Boulder study, playing in schoolyards that are natural -- such as wooded -- rather than built reduces children’s stress and inattention.

          And at the same time, says Louise Chawla, CU-Boulder professor of environmental design and lead author of the study, it fosters supportive social relationships and feelings of competence.

 

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Natural-terrain schoolyards and activities reduce students’ stress

July 22, 2014                                                            Louise Chawla

            Maybe the path to better teaching and healthier children begins in the forest.

            According to a new CU-Boulder study, playing in schoolyards that are natural -- such as wooded -- rather than built reduces children’s stress and inattention.

            And at the same time, says Louise Chawla, CU-Boulder professor of environmental design and lead author of the study, it fosters supportive social relationships and feelings of competence.

 

CUT 1 “Engagement with nature really encourages concentration. As we probably can all imagine if we think back to our ourselves as children playing in a brook or making a fort -- really long periods of concentration of doing one thing on a task. (:17) And for the young elementary school children, these are really the kind of tasks that they set for themselves of fort-making. (605) So for them it was like their self-appointed work, their self-elected work and real extended concentration there.” (:30)

 

            The same effects are present when young students work on class assignments or garden in nature, says Chawla.

CUT 2 “The older elementary school children could start to really talk about how this was a refuge from stress when they went out in the habitat. (:09) And then the teens were incredibly eloquent. They could go on and on in the most articulate ways at how this was a refuge from all the stresses – in school, at home, in their social lives.” (:22)

            For the study, a variety of settings were observed including elementary-school students’ recess in wooded areas; fourth- through sixth-grade students’ use of a natural habitat for science and writing lessons; and high-school students’ gardening for volunteerism, required school service, or coursework.

            Chawla says one reason the children may have been so inspired by being in the natural habitat has to do with something called “loose parts.”

CUT 3 “There’s this wonderful term called ‘loose parts.’  There are so many loose parts in the natural environment. (:09)So for creative play you go out in the woods and there is just unlimited variety of different kinds of leaves and sticks and trees and stones and there’s water and there’s earth you can shape and then there is all the salamanders and frogs and birds and just such a variety of different things there.”

            Another reason why the natural habitat has this effect on the children, says Chawla, is something that scientist usually don’t talk about because it’s difficult to prove but, she says, you know it’s part of the equation.

CUT 4 “Then, of course, the other piece in this is qualitative. It’s something we can’t really quite talk about in science. It is the environment that we evolved with. It is the environment that supports life on this planet. (:12) And our life, too, no matter how artificial the other environments of our lives may be, it’s what we co-evolved with and what our lives depends on.”

            Together Chawla and researchers Kelly Keena, Illène Pevec and Emily Stanley, logged more than 1,200 hours of observation over three years. The study is published in the journal Health & Place.

 

-CU-

 

 

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