Children spend more time at school than anywhere else outside the home. It is therefore important to ensure that this place is of high quality. Plants can help achieve this goal. Plants can make a positive contribution to indoor environmental quality through air purification and climate control.
Furthermore, there is increasing recognition of the potential of plants to create an engaging environment that supports social and emotional well-being, recovery from stress, and cognitive performance.
Green spaces enhance student performance in schools
It only takes venturing into the “great outdoors” to understand the myriad benefits nature can provide to the mind, body, and spirit. Your heart rate slows down as you feel relaxed, and the stresses of daily life fade as you breathe in the fresh air.
Studies have shown that bringing this experience indoors can have the same effect and, when applied in schools, can affect test scores and improve the learning experience for children and teachers alike. One study found that vegetation around schools was associated with improved standardized test scores in math and reading, and that green views of classroom and cafeteria windows were associated with increased student grades and graduation rates, as well as decreased school bullying behavior.
Another study suggests that the mere presence of plants can increase memory retention by about 20 percent and improve performance on tests. “It is believed that this is due to the fact that its leaves and stems can absorb and repel noise from the passage into the classroom, such as the sound of cars on the street, the sound of teachers and students in the schoolyard, children playing, and people talking in the corridors.”
Harnessing nature to combat stress
Our research shows better performance on tests for English and math when there are more plants, trees and other types of plants around the school, and a significant increase in mental health and lower physiological stress after greening the schoolyard, compared to other schools. Several studies also indicate that children consider school yards and other types of playgrounds to be more orderly and comfortable if they have more vegetation and grass. Notably, children may benefit from outdoor green spaces even when they are inside the classroom. This is illustrated, for example, by a randomized trial in five high schools, which showed that students who were assigned to classrooms with green views, compared to their peers in classrooms without green views, performed significantly better in Attention tests and they recovered faster from a stressful experience.
This can be explained by two main theoretical frameworks, each dealing with different types of restorative benefits:
First, the theory of attention recovery
Second, the stress recovery theory
First Theory: regaining attention
The theory posits that plants and natural settings promote relief from mental fatigue because they strengthen involuntary attention, allowing the ability to direct attention to rest. This theory distinguishes four characteristics of environmental experiences that support attention recovery: fascination, or the environment’s ability to attract attention automatically and effortlessly, to escape from daily troubles and obligations, to feel expansive and connected to the environment, and to fit in between the individual and the environment. These four components provide a useful framework for examining the conditions that foster an effective school learning environment.
The second theory: recovery from stress
The second theory focuses on recovery from stress and negative moods rather than the cognitive benefits. This theory suggests that plants and other types of vegetation elicit immediate and positive emotional responses, accompanied by physiological changes that indicate relaxation. According to stress recovery theory, the restorative psychophysiological reactions of plants reflect an innate evolutionary mechanism, whose function was to guide and support our ancestors in the process of finding food, water, and shelter. Thus, there is a theoretical basis for expecting that plants can contribute to a correctional indoor school environment that supports both children’s cognitive and emotional functioning.
A green wall provides a low-maintenance, space-saving solution to bringing nature into the classroom. We at Schaduf hope that this concept will spread within the classrooms in Egypt and the Arab world, in order to provide children with a more comfortable space and improve the overall performance of schools.