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Spending time in nature promotes early childhood development

If you want your child to hit their expected developmental milestones, then new UBC research suggests that living in areas with high exposure to greenspace can assist set them up for success.

For the study, posted in The Lancet Planetary Health, researchers at the UBC faculty of forestry and faculty of medicine analyzed the developmental rankings of 27,372 kids in Metro Vancouver who attended kindergarten between 2005 and 2011.

They estimated the amount of green area round each kid’s residence from birth to age five. They additionally assessed levels of traffic-related air pollution and community noise. The effects highlight the fundamental importance of natural green areas like avenue trees, parks and community gardens, authors say.

“Most of the kids have been doing properly in their development, in phrases of language skills, cognitive capacity, socialization and different outcomes,” says study author Ingrid Jarvis (she/her), a PhD candidate in the department of forest and conservation sciences at UBC. “But what’s fascinating is that those teenagers living in a residential location with more vegetation and richer herbal environments showed better overall development than their friends with much less greenspace.”

According to the researchers, the reason for this is partly greenspaces’ capability to reduce the harmful effects of air pollution and noise–environmental challenges that have been shown to adversely affect kid’s health and development through increased stress, sleep disturbances and central nervous system damage.

“Few research have investigated this pathway linking greenspace and developmental outcomes amongst children, and we trust this is the first Canadian study to do so,” adds Jarvis.

The researchers assessed early childhood development using the Early Development Instrument (EDI), a survey accomplished by kindergarten teachers for every child. The tool measures a kid’s potential to meet age-appropriate developmental expectations.

“More research is needed, however our findings suggest that urban planning efforts to increase greenspace in residential neighborhoods and round schools are beneficial for early childhood development, with potential fitness benefits throughout life,” says the study’s senior author and UBC research associate, Matilda van den Bosch (she/her).

“Time in nature can benefit everyone, however if we want our kids to have a good head start, it is important to provide an enriching environment via nature contact. Access to greenspace from a very younger age can assist ensure good social, emotional and mental improvement amongst children.”

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