Some of my favorite childhood memories involve a forest, a river, and a realm of pure imagination. In the summers of my youth, I loved exploring this wondrous world of lush greenery with my brother and two of my best friends. We were warriors of the riparian zone: climbing tree limbs, skipping rocks on the waters, hiding out in the treetop canopy.
Now that I’m older, I look back on these experiences with wistful envy. In reality, the forest was a community park, probably less than a mile wide, and the river was a creek that runs the length of a nearby golf course. Despite being ordinary parks, these nature-filled hideaways provided hours full of joy.
Green spaces have this magical ability to swallow up anxieties and bury them in the brush. When you’re alone with the trees –– the sunlight streaking through the evergreen canopy –– you can’t help but be both relaxed and invigorated. And, according to a recent study highlighted in the Washington Post, green spaces may greatly increase a child’s capacity for working memory if located near and around the school’s grounds (http://goo.gl/4XdBcB).
The study, appearing in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences in June, found that for a group of students living and attending school in Barcelona, Spain, the more exposure to green spaces, the more these students’ working memory and attentiveness increased. Interestingly, the researchers determined that it was the green space surrounding the school grounds –– more than at the child’s home –– that made the most difference.
Why would that be so? Why would a bit of greenery or nature area designated on school grounds so positively impact the attending students?
Evolutionary biologist E.O. Wilson likes to think there’s more to humans and green spaces than meets the eye. He’s proposed a sort of “biophilia hypothesis” –– one that surmises humans have a psychological need for green-filled environments, considering we’ve evolved alongside them for the last few thousand years. When we’re surrounded by green spaces, he says, we’re fulfilling a basic human need.
Now that’s an interesting point to consider. All along, science has championed food and water, shelter and a source of income, as being basic necessities for human survival. But perhaps this study shows us that we need to start accounting for greenness in our lives, as well.
And that starts with making sure green spaces are a priority –– just like providing jobs and healthcare are ever-present priorities in this twenty-first century world we live in. Because without proper protection and awareness, these green spaces face potential degradation, compromised for human engineering and expansion.
And without these green spaces, or easy access to them, the next generation will miss out on exploring the beauty of these natural landscapes.
This blog also appears on Conservation Fund