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Build Green Spaces to Build Immunity in Children
September 25, 2023
Accept the children the way we accept trees—with gratitude, because they are a blessing—but do not have expectations or desires. You don’t expect trees to change, you love them as they are.
-Isabel Allende, Chilean-American Writer, Teacher, Journalist

In a first-of-its-kind effort to explore a causal relationship between green spaces and immunity, a 2020 Finnish study found a significant difference in the microbiomes of children who played in green spaces and those who played in spaces dominated by concrete, tile and gravel. A healthy microbiome—marked by the diversity of microbes that live in the digestive tract—has a direct, positive impact on our immune systems, including fostering T-cell growth, part of our adaptive immune response.

"When daycare workers rolled out a lawn, planted forest undergrowth (such as dwarf heather and blueberries), and allowed children to care for crops in planter boxes, the diversity of microbes in the guts and on the skin of the young kids appeared healthier in a very short space of time," noted the researchers. In fact, it took just 28 days for their microbiomes to ‘catch up’ to those of children who already had daily access to green spaces or forests.

"The results of this study support the biodiversity hypothesis and the concept that low biodiversity in the modern living environment may lead to an uneducated immune system and consequently increase the prevalence of immune-mediated diseases," the authors explained.

While the study was too small to be conclusive, it has planted the seeds for future research, adding to a long list of physical and mental health benefits of playing, learning and growing in nature-rich environments.


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Comments (2)

Displaying All 2 Comments
Kirsten Haugen · September 28, 2023
Eugene, OR, United States

Thanks, Francis. Children are listening and not always hearing what we think we're saying. It's up to us to understand and adjust for that, by fully knowing the children in our care. I personally believe grounding our work and programs in authentic relationships is one of the only ways we can combat our brain-based tendencies to marginalize and stereotype anyone who is 'other' for any reason.

Francis Wardle · September 26, 2023
University of Phoenix/ Red Rocks Community College
Denver, Colorado, United States

(Comment on the Climate Crisis article). Because young children are concrete thinkers and learners, we have to be very careful with this issue, just as we should in teaching about race. What if one of the child's parents is a truck driver, or a pilot? What if they live on a farm (where not only are there lots of vehicles used for farming and taking produce to the market, but many farms have cows, which have come under attack from climate activists). This reminds me of an incident when I was involved in a panel discussion about young children and diversity. We covered all the traditional topics, including marginalized families and children. Then an older White lady (one of my students) got up and recounted how she was horribly treated as a child (just after the war), because she was German, with peers calling her a nazi and a Jew -killer. The staff did nothing. Then she said, "and what am I, chopped liver?" I can see this happening with Russian children in our programs, if we are not careful.

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