Nature’s role in our well-being isn’t up for debate. Corporations are integrating rich natural landscapes—indoors and out—throughout their campuses to improve productivity and well-being among their employees. Individuals keep houseplants to create a relaxing home environment and to “scrub” toxins from the air. Where do we need productivity, engagement, wellness, and—dare we say it—less toxic environments the most?
Children—and the heroes we entrust with their education—deserve the same benefits of biophilic design that multinational corporations provide their workforce. Boston’s public schools face many challenges (to say the least) and putting some potted plants or living walls in classrooms or common areas won’t solve them all. But scientific evidence points to the benefits of teaching students in a more natural, organic setting.
Indoor plants and interactive landscapes foster learning
Nature-based environments enhance the retention of new information and help kids stay focused. Garden-based learning positively impacts science, math, and language skills, and improves social development. Combine that with plants’ ability to enhance emotional and physical well-being, and we’ve got a solid case for greening up our classrooms and campuses. Here’s another bonus, one point among many made by Texas A&M’s Ellison Chair in International Floriculture:
“Being around natural environments improves the ability of children with Attention Deficit Disorder to focus, concentrate, and engage more with their surrounding environment.”
Everyone talks about wanting to peel their kids—and often, themselves—away from their screens with the goal of spending more time in the great outdoors. The Boston-based family blog Mommy Poppins recently published a great list of education-focused botanical gardens, conservatories, and natural science centers, and Harvard’s Arnold Arboretum offers camps for kids and tours for grade-school classes. But how often do our children get to go to these places on school field trips, or with their families?
These wonderful public gardens inspire kids to learn more about plants… and plants inspire kids to learn more about science. Busy urban families might not get out in nature as much as they like, causing their children to become “green deprived”. Why not make those truly natural resources part of our students’ everyday environment? If indoor naturescapes make kids more receptive to their lessons, improve emotional and mental well-being, and accelerate productivity, everyone wins. The next step is to decide how to best implement biophilic design:
- How would living wall installations in libraries or study rooms improve academic achievement?
- Could campus gardening programs help students in inner-city Boston?
- Could biophilic design positively affect kids in special ed programs, the way it does with ADD/ADHD students?
Biophilic design supports teachers… who need all the help they can get
Boots-on-the-ground educators experience higher stress levels than the average professional. Perhaps more than most. That’s the takeaway from the “2017 Educator Quality of Work Life Survey” a study sponsored by the American Federation of Teachers and the redundantly-named Badass Teachers Association. Another study addresses the urgent need to support educators’ ability to cope with stressful environments and interactions.
All that should be enough cause for alarm, but the trickle-down effect also endangers our future: Both studies conclude that a teacher’s stress levels, all-around exhaustion, and tendency to “burn out” negatively impact their students’ academic success.
While everyone else dickers about salaries, contracts, benefits, and standardization, what can we do in the meantime? Here’s how living botanical art might both show appreciation for and improve the mindset of our teachers:
- Living “ferniture” in the teacher’s lounge
- Live floral arrangements in the classroom
- Easy-care live plants as take-home gifts or rewards
Educators nurture our kids’ minds… apparently at the risk of their own. Maybe we should find ways to give them a little love in return. If we expect our younger generations to take care of us in our old age, we’d better not neglect our teachers—or we’re doomed. Especially if our future leaders have no appreciation for the natural world. (Have you seen Idiocracy? Yes? Well then. Case closed!)
How can private and public schools bring nature into their daily curricula?
If you’re a teacher, right now you’re probably thinking, “Seriously, people! I have to keep all these kids alive on a daily basis. Don’t even ask me to take care of a bunch of plants!” If you’re anybody who’s aware of school budgets in their community, you might be rolling your eyes, or maybe laughing hysterically. We get it. Teachers are already paying out-of-pocket for school supplies, and Boston’s public schools have a lot on their plate.
There are alternative solutions to get a campus biophilic program off the ground. Private schools, public school district administrators, and auxiliary groups can seek grants for school gardens. Other funding sources might be suitable for indoor bioscapes, and most of these charitable organizations offer excellent resources and guidance for implementing garden-based projects.
Cityscapes of Boston designs installs and maintains exterior landscapes, living walls, and indoor container plants. We service commercial and institutional clients who are dedicated to creating environmentally innovative spaces for their staff and clients. Visit us online to learn more about what we do, and contact us if you’d like to tap into our knowledge base.
In the meantime, we’re rooting for our Massachusetts teachers. In our book, they’re all badasses.