School & District Management

Time With Nature Reduces Student Stress, Research Says

By Kristie Chua — August 29, 2014 2 min read
  • Save to favorites
  • Print

Access to outdoor green spaces helps reduce stress and improves attention spans in children by offering them a peaceful environment, according to a new study published last month.

In an interview with Science Daily, lead author of the study and University of Colorado Boulder professor of environmental design Louise Chawla says that since children spend the majority of their time in school, it is important to integrate daily contact with nature at school.

Chawla argues that schools can reduce stress simply by allowing children to play in green spaces, instead of only focusing on teaching children how to cope with stress.

“Many schools already offer stress management programs,” she said. “But they’re about teaching individuals how to deal with stress instead of creating stress-reducing environments.”

The researchers analyzed responses to green schoolyards in Maryland and Colorado through interviews with students, teachers, and parents. More than 1,200 hours of observation were recorded.

In the study, young elementary school children were allowed to play in wooded areas, older elementary school children used a natural habitat for class lessons, and high schoolers were allowed to garden.

The study found that children viewed the green spaces as calming. The natural areas allowed students to escape stress, improve their attention spans, and build confidence.

Elementary school teachers in Maryland reported that after spending recess time in the woods, their students came back to the classroom with longer attention spans. In Denver, the results of the study point to green spaces as relaxing environments that encourage better behavior.

“In more than 700 hours of observations at the Denver school’s green outdoor space, zero uncivil behaviors were observed,” said Chawla. “But there were many incidents of arguments and rudeness indoors, as there are at many schools.”

The high schoolers who spent time gardening told researchers they liked being outside in the fresh air, feeling connected to nature, successfully nurturing living things, and having time to self reflect.

Other studies have shown that children today spend minimal time outside. 43 percent of parents say their children would rather watch television inside than go outside and play. About 10 percent say their kids would even rather do homework than go outside.

Many parents, without the time to supervise outdoor playtime, rely on schools to ensure that their children spend time outside during school hours, either through physical education or recess.

However, as Chawla mentions, spending time outside simply isn’t enough. Natural terrain schoolyards that include water features, dirt, and plants foster relationships and feelings of competence. Having access to the outdoors—and not just asphalt and a playground—has its benefits for children.

Advocates for children spending time in natural spaces argue that it’s a multi-sensory activity that forces children’s brains to work in unique ways to understand new stimuli, stimulates creativity, helps children develop a respect for living things, and increases their physical activity level.

Other researchers have suggested alterations to recess this year. In January, a University of Delaware professor suggested that schools need recess to be at least 30 minutes long for children to derive lasting benefit.

Photo: Students at High Shoals elementary plant for the second time with the help of Dean Angle and Representative Chuck Williams. (UGA College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences/Flickr Creative Commons)

A version of this news article first appeared in the Teaching Now blog.

Commenting has been disabled on effective Sept. 8. Please visit our FAQ section for more details. To get in touch with us visit our contact page, follow us on social media, or submit a Letter to the Editor.


This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Teaching Webinar
6 Key Trends in Teaching and Learning
As we enter the third school year affected by the pandemic—and a return to the classroom for many—we come better prepared, but questions remain. How will the last year impact teaching and learning this school
Content provided by Instructure
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Equity & Diversity Webinar
Leadership for Racial Equity in Schools and Beyond
While the COVID-19 pandemic continues to reveal systemic racial disparities in educational opportunity, there are revelations to which we can and must respond. Through conscientious efforts, using an intentional focus on race, school leaders can
Content provided by Corwin
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Equity & Diversity Webinar
Evaluating Equity to Drive District-Wide Action this School Year
Educational leaders are charged with ensuring all students receive equitable access to a high-quality education. Yet equity is more than an action. It is a lens through which we continuously review instructional practices and student
Content provided by BetterLesson

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Teacher Jobs
Search over ten thousand teaching jobs nationwide — elementary, middle, high school and more.
View Jobs
Principal Jobs
Find hundreds of jobs for principals, assistant principals, and other school leadership roles.
View Jobs
Administrator Jobs
Over a thousand district-level jobs: superintendents, directors, more.
View Jobs
Support Staff Jobs
Search thousands of jobs, from paraprofessionals to counselors and more.
View Jobs

Read Next

School & District Management How 'Vaccine Discrimination' Laws Make It Harder for Schools to Limit COVID Spread
In Montana and Ohio, the unvaccinated are a protected class, making it tough to track and contain outbreaks, school leaders say.
4 min read
Principal and District Superintendent Bonnie Lower takes the temperature of a student at Willow Creek School as the school reopened, Thursday, May 7, 2020, in Willow Creek, Mont.
Bonnie Lower, a principal and district superintendent in Willow Creek, Mont., checks the temperature of a student as Willow Creek School reopened for in-person instruction in the spring.
Ryan Berry/Bozeman Daily Chronicle via AP
School & District Management Opinion 'Futures Thinking' Can Help Schools Plan for the Next Pandemic
Rethinking the use of time and place for teachers and students, taking risks, and having a sound family-engagement plan also would help.
17 min read
Images shows colorful speech bubbles that say "Q," "&," and "A."
School & District Management Opinion The Consequence of Public-Health Officials Racing to Shutter Schools
Public-health officials' lack of concern for the risks of closing schools may shed light on Americans' reticence to embrace their directives.
5 min read
Image shows a multi-tailed arrow hitting the bullseye of a target.
DigitalVision Vectors/Getty
School & District Management Opinion Best Ways for Schools to Prepare for the Next Pandemic
Being better connected to families and the community and diversifying the education workforce are some of the ways to be ready.
14 min read
Images shows colorful speech bubbles that say "Q," "&," and "A."