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Natural Environments Near Schools: Potential Benefits For Socio‐Emotional And Behavioral Development In Early Childhood

J. Scott, R. Kilmer, Chuang Wang, James R. Cook, M. Haber
Published 2018 · Psychology, Medicine

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Features of the natural environment such as tree canopy and green space have been found to promote health and well-being; however, minimal research has investigated potential benefits of nature near schools for early childhood development. This study examined differences in teacher ratings of preschoolers' socio-emotional and behavioral functioning in relation to the presence of natural elements (e.g., trees, parks) near children's homes and schools. Students' development of emotional and behavioral regulatory skills was the greatest when there were high levels of tree canopy either at home or school. Additionally, students developed greater independence and social skills when their schools were in neighborhoods with limited impervious surface (e.g., concrete); this trend was the most pronounced for students from neighborhoods low in impervious surface. Further, results suggested that associations with tree canopy may fluctuate seasonally (i.e., stronger relationships in the spring) and that the potential impact of school nature may depend on levels of home nature exposure. Although not yielding causal evidence regarding the impact of nature exposure or the effectiveness of greening interventions, findings suggest that school administrators and city planners could collaborate to maximize potential benefits of greening efforts near schools or within their catchment zones.
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