VANCOUVER, British Columbia — Parents often encourage their kids to eat their greens, but a new study finds parents may want to prioritize ensuring their children spend enough time in green spaces instead. Researchers from the University of British Columbia report spending time in nature promotes early childhood development and can help kids reach their expected learning and cognitive developmental milestones.
The study suggests living in areas surrounded by more natural green spaces provides children with an added developmental advantage. The team analyzed developmental scores from 27,372 children who lived in the Metro Vancouver area and attended kindergarten between 2005 and 2011. Study authors estimated the amount of green space surrounding each child’s home from the time of their birth to the age of five. Additionally, they also considered traffic-related air pollution and community noise levels to reach their conclusions.
All in all, the team at UBC say this work just goes to show how important green spaces like parks, gardens, and street trees are for local communities and inhabitants.
“Most of the children were doing well in their development, in terms of language skills, cognitive capacity, socialization and other outcomes,” says study author Ingrid Jarvis, a PhD candidate in the department of forest and conservation sciences at UBC, in a university 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 green space.”
Why does nature boost cognitive development?
The research team says at least a portion of the benefits likely have a connection to green spaces’ ability to mitigate the harmful impact of both air pollution and excess noise. Both air and noise pollution can impede and adversely affect a child’s overall health and development by triggering extra stress, causing sleep issues, and even inflicting central nervous system damage.
“Few studies have investigated this pathway linking green space and developmental outcomes among children, and we believe this is the first Canadian study to do so,” Jarvis adds.
The team measured childhood development using the Early Development Instrument (EDI). Each child’s kindergarten teacher completed this survey. The questionnaire can accurately assess a child’s ability to meet the developmental expectations for their age.
“More research is needed, but our findings suggest that urban planning efforts to increase green space in residential neighborhoods and around schools are beneficial for early childhood development, with potential health benefits throughout life,” concludes senior study author and UBC research associate, Matilda van den Bosch.
“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 green space from a very young age can help ensure good social, emotional and mental development among children.”
The study is published in The Lancet Planetary Health.