This year, more than ever, the discussion on the impact of the physical schooling environment is a matter of immense importance. With children returning to the classroom after a long absence, making the most of their time in the school environment is at the forefront of everyone's minds.
It is important to provide the best possible environment to develop future-ready learners, access to nature in the school environment through sustainable urban greening has been proven to have a positive impact on not only physical and mental well-being of pupils but also to enhance the learning environment, and allow pupils to develop skills for a sustainable future.
Urban Greening in the School Environment
Urban greening in school environments can protect vulnerable children from harmful pollutants, improving air quality and in turn, both physical health and concentration levels. This type of urban vegetation acts as a pollution sink, protecting pupils from the detrimental effects of pollution, which is of particular importance for schools in urban and near-road environments (London Air). Living walls can decrease the levels of harmful particulate matter by as much as 60% and nitrogen dioxide by up to 40% when planted correctly, they have also been shown to reduce the concentration of VOCs (Volatile Organic Compounds).
Landscaping, Living Walls, and Living Pillars can be integrated into the school environment both indoors and outdoors and adapted to suit the unique needs of each school.
As human beings, we all have an innate need to connect with nature. Views of nature from classroom windows are proven to improve directed attention skills when compared to less natural scenes. Plants, both indoor and outdoor have the potential to promote relaxation and recovery from stressful experiences and visual access to nature from the classroom has even been found to decrease attention deficit behaviours in children (frontiersin). Sustainable urban greening through the introduction of Living walls and Living pillars is an effective method for integrating nature into even the most urban school environments.
Living walls and greenery also have sound absorption properties that can reduce noise levels in buildings and create a more focused learning environment. This is particularly important for schools in urban or heavy traffic areas which can impact pupil concentration levels. A green façade can reduce sound levels by up to 10 decibels (Arup – Green Buildings). This noise reduction is thought to be one of the key factors in the stronger standardised test results found in schools with greenery and access to nature (Wu et al., 2014; Hodson and Sander, 2017). Academic achievement is positively influenced by exposure to nature in a variety of settings (McCormick, 2017). Additionally, the presence of plants has been demonstrated to improve memory retention by approximately 20% (PHS Greenleaf). Pupils also benefit from reductions in teacher and staff absenteeism through the creation of a more healthful working environment.
In addition to creating a better learning environment and providing passive health benefits, the installation of living walls, living pillars, interior landscaping, and biophilic design to the school and playground environment creates opportunities to inspire critical thinking, provide hands-on environmental education and develop project-based learning to complement the curriculum across STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Maths) subjects. Students can engage directly with the diverse range of plants as well as the engineering and design methodology behind these structures, encouraging knowledge of biodiversity and environmental engineering which will complement their studies.
The numerous benefits of urban greening in a school environment, from mental and physical health to improved concentration and academic achievement as well as direct learning opportunities, make them the ideal solution for creating a future-focused environment to educate a greener generation.