Study: More Time in Nature Beneficial to Early Childhood Development

The team estimated the amount of greenspace around each child’s residence from birth to 5 years of age and they assessed levels of traffic-related air pollution and community noise.

New research from the University of British Columbia (UBC) suggests that living in areas with high exposure to greenspace can help set children up for success later in life.

The research team at the UBC Faculty of Forestry and Faculty of Medicine analyzed the developmental scores of 27,372 children in Metro Vancouver who attended kindergarten between 2005 and 2011. The team estimated the amount of greenspace around each child’s residence from birth to 5 years of age and they assessed levels of traffic-related air pollution and community noise.

The findings highlight the fundamental importance of natural green spaces such as street trees, parks, and community gardens, according to the study authors.

“Most of the children were doing well in their development, in terms of language skills, cognitive capacity, socialization and other outcomes,” said study author Ingrid Jarvis, a PhD candidate in the department of forest and conservation sciences at UBC, in a press release. “But what’s interesting is that those children living in a residential location with more vegetation and richer natural environments showed better overall development than their peers with less greenspace.”

The ability of greenspace to reduce the harmful effects of air pollution and noise are environmental changes that may have a potentially negative impact on children’s health and development through increased stress, sleep disturbances, and central nervous system damage, according to the study authors.

“Few studies have investigated this pathway linking greenspace and developmental outcomes among children, and we believe this is the first Canadian study to do so,” Jarvis said in the press release.

The research team used the Early Development Instrument tool to assess the children’s development, which is a survey completed by kindergarten teachers for each child and measures a child’s ability to meet age-appropriate developmental expectations.

“More research is needed, but our findings suggest that urban planning efforts to increase greenspace in residential neighborhoods and around schools are beneficial for early childhood development, with potential health benefits throughout life,” said senior study author Matilda van den Bosch in the press release. “Time in nature can benefit everyone, but if we want our children to have a good head start, it’s important to provide an enriching environment through nature contact. Access to greenspace from a very young age can help ensure good social, emotional and mental development among children.”

REFERENCE

Spending time in nature promotes early childhood development. UBC News. October 21, 2021. Accessed October 27, 2021.

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