Human Health & Plants Research: Can Plants Help Reduce Stress of Children in Elementary School?

Dr. Charles GuySuppose engaging in activities with plants for less than one hour once a week could reduce stress and stress hormone levels in troubled elementary school children. It would be utterly amazing. If so, such activities could become a key component in an educational environment to improve the well-being and academic performance of distressed children. A recent small pilot study was reported in the peer-reviewed journal Complementary Therapies in Medicine by Lee1 and colleagues. Twenty children were assigned to either a group given free time to read, go on the Internet, or socialize with friends (control) or to a group that did flower arranging, transplanting, and flower pressing (treatment). After nine weeks, the treatment group showed improvement in school life stress and lower cortisol (human stress hormone) levels compared to the control group. Often human subject studies focused on the influence of plant-based activities on group health and well-being, the number of participants in the trials has been very small. The positive outcomes found in this study, clearly warrant more studies with much larger numbers of participants to improve statistical power and more robustly test the validity of the present findings. If children attending a short “hands on” horticulture class in school once a week did have reduced stress and stress hormone levels, it might become an effective, sustainable, and economical approach to improve student wellness and learning. Therefore, it is time for large-scale studies to be conducted to determine the efficacy of using plants to improve wellness and learning of young children.

1Lee et al., (2018), in Complementary Therapies in Medicine. 37, 172-177.

Charles Guy, Emeritus and Courtesy Professor
Department of Environmental Horticulture, University of Florida

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