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Green Scenes can help children endure stresses

A room with a view, a green one, can help protect children against stress, according to a study by Cornell environmental psychologists. Nature in or around the home, they say, appears to be a significant factor in protecting the psychological well-being of children in rural areas.

"Our study finds that life's stressful events appear not to cause as much psychological distress in children who live in high-nature conditions compared with children who live in low-nature conditions," said Nancy Wells, assistant professor of design and environmental analysis int he College of Human Ecology. "The protective impact of nearby nature is strongest for the most vulnerable children -- those experiencing the highest levels of stressful life events."

Wells discussed her findings at a meeting of the Environmental Design Research Association. Wells and colleague Gary Evans, assessed the degree of nature in and around the homes of 337 rural children in grades 3 through 5 by calculating the number of live plants indoors, the amount of nature in the window views and the material of the outdoor yard (grass, dirt or concrete). Their assessment was based on a "naturalness scale of residential environments" developed in 2000. They used standardized scales to measure stress in the children's lives.

Results indidicated that even in a rural setting with a relative abundance of green landscape, more appears to be better when it comes to bolstering children's resilience against stress or adversity."

In 2000, Wells conducted a study that found that being close to nature also helps boost a child's attention span. "When children's cognitive functioning was ocmpared before and afer they moved from poor- to better - quality housing that had more green spaces around, profound differences emerged in their attention capacities even when the effects of the improved housing were taken into account."

Other studies, she noted, also support the theory that green spaces might help restore children's ability to focus their attention, therebybolstering their cognitive resources by allowing neural inhibitory mechanisms to rest and recover from use. By bolstering children's atentional resrouces, green spaces may enable children to think mor clearly and cope more effectively with life stress.

Another possible explanation for the protective effect of being clsoe to nature is that green spaces foster social interaction and thereby promote social support. One study shows that children and parents who live in places that allow for outdoor access have twice as many friends as those who have restricted outdoor access due to traffic.

The study was supported, in part, by the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Research Network on Socioeconomic Status and Health, the W.T. Grant Foundation, the College of Human Ecology, the National Institute for Child Health and Human Development, a U.S. Department of Agriculture Hatch Grant and the National Institute of Mental Health. May 8, 2003

For more articles about NATURE & KIDS

Young Birders Get Serious About Birding Fun
The Squirrel Family 0 Backyard Nature Safari
Hamsters are rodents and cuddly pets
Kids Learning Links
Buddy's Diner (for the birds)
Bird Profiles for Young Naturalists