Parents, take note! Children who grow up close to parks and green spaces may develop a better attention span, a study suggests.
Researchers from Barcelona Institute for Global Health (ISGlobal) in Spain studied data from 1,500 children, collected during 2003-2013. Previous studies have already indicated that green spaces within and surrounding schools could enhance cognitive development in children between seven and 10 years of age.
The study, published in the journal Environment Health Perspectives, analysed residential surrounding greenness – at 100, 300 and 500 metres distance near the homes of children at birth, four to five years old, and seven years old. Researchers performed two types of attention tests at four to five years and seven years of age.
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The team found that children with higher greenness around their homes had better scores in the attention tests. “These results underline the importance of green areas in cities for children’s health and brain development,” said Payam Dadvand, researcher at ISGlobal.
“The possibility that exposure to different types of vegetation might have different impacts on neurodevelopment remains an open question,” said Jordi Sunyer from ISGlobal. Green spaces in cities promote social connections and physical activity and reduce exposure to air pollution and noise, and are therefore essential for the development of the future generations’ brains, researchers said. [ht]
Teaching children to care for the environment is an important parental responsibility that is crucial for their future. But sometimes helping the planet can feel overwhelming for small shoulders. Remember to encourage young children to take one step at a time when going green. The little things they can do really make a big difference.
Many solutions to our environmental problems are very simple. There are many ways to care for the environment – from reusing common household items to putting paper and plastic in the recycle box. Encourage children to do one small thing, and then add another and another . Before you know it, those little steps add up to a lot more green. Also consider your children’s ages and how much responsibility they can handle. Above all, make it a fun family affair. Children learn best when they are happy and can model our behavior.
Here are 10 ways to encourage children to go green:
The power switch: One simple way we can conserve the earth’s resources is by not using more electricity than we need. Teach children to turn off lights when they leave a room and turn off the TV if they are not watching it.
Pull the plug: Even when electronics and appliances are turned off, they still consume energy if plugged in the electrical outlet. Conserve energy by teaching older children to unplug their game systems, computers, chargers, or audio equipment. Little ones can participate too by becoming the family “plug police” and inform grownups of any unused household equipment that is plugged into an electrical outlet.
Tighten up: Encourage children to check water taps in the house to make sure they are tightened and inform a grownup if any faucets leak. A drop-per-second leak wastes about 2,400 gallons of water a year.
Turn off the tap: Water should not be running while children brush their teeth. Teach children to turn off the tap and reduce shower time to conserve energy.
Collect rainwater: Water can be recycled too! Children often enjoy collecting rainwater. The next time it rains, place a pail or container outside and put a heavy rock or brick inside to prevent it from tipping over. When the rain is done, they will have a fresh supply of water to feed household plants.
Use community resources: Libraries carry more than books. Selection of CDs, audio tapes and DVDs are also available. Some communities have toy lending libraries. Learn about community resources and encourage children to find items that are new to them instead of purchasing new things.
Pass it on: Clothes, toys and other household items that are no longer used can be donated to organizations instead of thrown into the trash. Pick through items with your children and find a local organization that will benefit from your donation. Children feel good knowing they are helping their community.
Litter free lunch challenge: Packaging our children’s lunches can create a lot of waste. Most disposable items can be replaced by reusable ones. Involve your children in finding creative ways to pack a healthy lunch that leaves no trash behind. Try inexpensive stainless steel cutlery instead of plastic, cloth napkins rather than paper, or thermoses, reusable glass, and plastic containers instead of disposable plastic or paper.
Reuse or recycle: Teaching children to place recyclable items in the recycle bin is an important way to help the environment. Finding creative ways to reuse household items is another. Make it a fun challenge for the entire family. Be creative and you’ll be surprised how easily an empty cereal box can be transformed into a letter holder, or how quickly an empty shoebox can turn into a storage container for photos and artwork. The possibilities are endless! You’ll be reducing waste and having a fun time with the children’s new ideas.
Bike or Walk: Going somewhere doesn’t always mean having to use a car. Encourage your children to walk or ride their bikes for short trips. For younger children, grab your running shoes and walk or bike with them. In addition to reducing pollution, the entire family will benefit from some exercise.
Fostering a love for planet Earth, and teaching children the behavior needed to preserve its beauty, can be achieved when simple solutions are implemented. Fortunately, children are often eager and enthusiastic to lend a helping hand. With guidance, children will grow up to become stewards of the environment so their world will be a cleaner and safer place to live in. [naturallysavy]
Green living for kids is just as important as it is for adults. Children live what they learn and experience as they grow. Developing a respect for the environment at an early age will make a difference in your child’s future and the future of the planet.
Start Teaching Green Living Early=
As soon as your baby is born you can make green living a part of her life. By using organic toys and cloth diapers, as well as making other environmentally responsible choices, your baby can begin to develop an awareness of the earth from the very beginning.
Jill Vanderwood, author of What’s It Like, Living Green? Kids Teaching Kids, by the Way They Live, says “the future of the green movement will be led by the children, who will help adults change the way they look at things.”
In getting your young ones started in the path of environmental awareness, she says “The most important step you can take is to change just one thing. Start recycling, reusing or stop wasting water, then go from there and make another change.”
Some other ideas to consider are:
- Organic cotton clothing and bedding
- Toys and furniture made from organic cotton, sustainable sources and recycled plastics
- Low or zero VOC (Volatile Organic Compounds) paints
Green Living for Kids as They Grow
As children grow they can be more involved in the choice to live in an environmentally responsible manner. Encouraging them to choose this lifestyle is an important way to help them feel good about their choices. Discuss environmental problems with them and listen to their thoughts and ideas.
Read About Other Kids Going Green
Vanderwood’s book is full of examples of children who have been inspired to start green living projects in their community, some of which have expanded dramatically. For example, she writes of “kids like Janine Lacare who is the co-founder of Kids Saving the Rainforest, an organization she began in Costa Rica when she was only nine years old” and about “the story of Ryan Hreljac who began Ryan’s Well Foundation to bring clean water wells to poor countries around the world, with his first donation as a seven year-old.”
The book gives examples of ways schools and families can encourage children to undertake such bold efforts, but there are many tried and true green living ideas to let your child explore a more eco-friendly lifestyle. “They can learn to think about saving the planet in simple ways,” says Vanderwood, “like walking or taking their bikes instead of asking Mom or Dad for a ride, not leaving the lights and TV on, not changing their clothes so often, and using reusable water bottles.”
Grow a Garden
Give your child a small area in your vegetable garden to grow his choice of vegetables. Radishes are good when a child is very young because they grow quickly. Other easy to grow vegetables include:
- Green beans
- Snap peas
- Cherry tomatoes
Recycling is an important part of green living. Many towns have recycling programs. Talk about recycling and practice recycling at home. If your child’s school does not have a recycling program, talk to the administration about beginning one.
Another step to recycling is buying products that are made from recycled products. Look for items that are labeled as having been created from a percentage of post-consumer waste products. These items are more widely available than ever before and can include:
- School supplies
Buy Fair Trade Items
Teach your children about the Fair Trade label and what it means. It is an approach to manufacturing that guarantees workers (especially those in other countries) not only a wage that they can live on but better working conditions for them and an increased standard of living for their families. Companies that practice fair trade often sponsor medical clinics, schools and other community services.
By doing simple things like turning the water off when brushing their teeth or making a rain barrel to gather rainwater for watering the plants, children can begin to understand the importance of protecting water resources.
It is important for children to understand that electricity use also has an effect on the environment. By teaching them to do simple things like turning off the lights or television when they leave a room, you encourage them to respect this resource.
Another way to get children interested in saving energy is to help them build solar and wind powered projects from kits. These kits are available in a variety of types, sizes and prices at almost any toy store or Internet toy website.
Become a Wise Consumer
One of the ways to encourage green living for kids is to inspire them to be wise consumers. Buying items secondhand and selecting items that have less impact on the environment are good ways to be an eco- friendly consumer. Other ways that this can be done are:
- Purchase reusable bags
- Shop thrift shops and garage sales
- Buy organic
- Shop locally
Live Green Yourself
Green living for kids is not an overnight thing. Vanderwood says “making several small changes over a long period of time makes it easy to adjust to each change instead of reverting back to old habits.”
It is also important to take every opportunity to discuss environmental issues with your children and answer their questions. A green lifestyle is a lifetime commitment to the environment. Helping a child to make that commitment is as simple as sharing your own life with her. “Teaching kids about green living is a great way to start a change,” says Vanderwood. “After all, who wants to inherit an earth filled with waste and garbage?” [greenliving]
Living near a park or other green space appeared to benefit city kids with severe asthma, especially older kids who were more likely to play outside on their own, according to researchers here.
For every 305 meters (about 1,000 feet) between home and park, children had 1 extra day of asthma symptoms. In addition, children who lived next to a park averaged 5 symptomatic days and children living 305 meters from the park had 6 symptomatic days, reported Kelli DePriest, a PhD candidate at Johns Hopkins University School of Nursing in Baltimore, and colleagues.
Among older children (ages 6-12), those living next to the park had an average of 5 symptomatic days, they said in a early presentation at the European Respiratory Society (ERS) International Congress.
Urban living is a known risk factor for asthma in children, as well as poorly controlled disease, but it is less clear if having access to a park or other green space, and utilizing these spaces, benefits city kids with severe asthma that is poorly controlled, DePriest noted.
“According to health department statistics, Baltimore has the highest pediatric asthma hospitalization rate of any city in the United States,” she told MedPage Today. “That made it a good place to look at the impact of living close to a park or green spaces on asthma severity in children with pretty severe asthma.”
Baltimore is a city of around 620,000 people, with levels of pollution similar to New York and Los Angeles, but slightly lower than those in London and Milan.
The study included 196 children, ages of 3 to 12 years, who had either visited emergency departments at least twice or had asthma-related hospitalizations during the past year.
“This group of children are predominantly African American, Medicaid insured, and their families are from a lower socioeconomic status, which means they represent a population at high risk for asthma-related mortality,” DePriest said in an ERS press statement.
The children’s parents were asked how many days their child had suffered with symptoms such as being short of breath, chest pain, and wheezing.
Researchers also mapped the distances between the children’s home addresses and the closest green space.
The average length from home to the nearest park averaged around 250 meters, or about two city blocks. While some children lived immediately next to a green space, others were more than a kilometer (about 3,300 feet) away.
The effect seemed strongest for children ages 6 years and up, DePriest noted. “This might be because they have more freedom to choose where they want to go compared to younger children. These results are important because they provide further support for the benefits of city parks, and they suggest that the right building policies can improve children’s health.”
Mina Gaga, MD, PhD, ERS president-elect, said several possible mechanisms may be at play to explain the findings.
She noted that previous research has shown the air in urban parks, and other urban green spaces to be cleaner, than surrounding areas with few trees or plants. There is also the “hygiene hypothesis,” that playing outside, and/or in the dirt, may help protect kids from allergy and asthma.
“It’s also clear that getting exercise is beneficial to kids with asthma, so it appears to be a win-win situation to have parks nearby,” said Gaga, who is with the Athens Chest Hospital.
Finally, she noted that time spent outdoors is “also very good for children’s spirits. The definition of health includes happiness. So I think it is very important to be in an environment that is sunny, green, and nice.”
40% of food in America goes uneaten—it’s an almost unbelievable fact. Here in New York City, around 20% of our waste stream is food waste. For decades, this food waste has been sent to landfills where it produces methane, a potent greenhouse gas and large contributor to global warming.
Instead of sending all this food to landfill we want to first prevent, then recover, and finally recycle any remaining food.
In recent years, New York City has shown incredible leadership on food waste recycling, and our apple cores and potato peels are starting to meet a better end.
Back in 2013, City Council passed two laws to jump start the recycling of food waste. These laws established a curbside organics collection pilot and organics diversion requirements for businesses. My colleague Eric Goldstein has written about the residential program and commercial requirements, if you want to learn more.
In the years since, New York City Department of Sanitation has been hard at work implementing these two laws. And it shows—with three great examples in the last few weeks alone.
First, as of yesterday, the New York City curbside organics collection program serves 2 million people, making it the largest program of its kind in the country. By the end of this year it will serve 3.3 million people and by the end of 2018, all NYC residents will have access to curbside organics collection or to a convenient drop off location. This is no small feat and the city’s leadership and dedication on this issue will help drive development of food recycling infrastructure and hopefully inspire action by other cities as well.
Second, just last week, the NYC Commissioner of Sanitation Kathryn Garcia announced a proposal to dramatically expand the number of commercial food establishments required to separate their organic waste and send it for beneficial use. Currently the largest 350 or so commercial food establishments are required to separate their organic waste, but this new proposal will add approximately 2000 businesses. Department of Sanitation estimates this will increase diversion of organic material from the commercial sector to 50,000 tons a year.
Third, New York City’s Department of Sanitation’s Foundation for New York’s Strongest hosted the first NYC Food Waste Fair yesterday. The Food Waste Fair—with more than 1000 people in attendance—sought to equip NYC businesses with the tools to address food waste. There was a great panel on food waste policy (including my colleague Mark Izeman, city staff, and experts), workshops for businesses, and dozens of exhibitors.
With the city’s dedication on this issue and so many interested stakeholders, we look forward to building on good food waste recycling leadership and making similar strides on prevention and recovery to holistically address food waste. [NRDC]