Studies have shown that students perform better in classrooms with views of nature, but these studies have generally been conducted with high school and college students. The current study expands that literature by investigating the potential benefits of natural window and interior classroom views for primary student's well-being and task performance in class.
This study was based on data from 634 students in 41 fourth-grade classes in Germany. All participating students completed a questionnaire addressing relevant aspects of satisfaction and comfort in school, including the ability to concentrate and learn in class, satisfaction with achievements, perceived stress, and social integration in class. The questionnaire also included several items designed to briefly capture their connectedness to nature. One such item asked children to indicate how much time per week they spend in nature; another focused on their involvement with plant care at home or elsewhere. All participating students also completed a concentration test (the d2-revision test) which records concentrated attention over a short period of time.
Assessments of the classrooms completed by the researchers showed that the classrooms varied widely in both naturalness of window views and interior classroom views. Students in classrooms with more natural window views reported less perceived stress and more attention. The natural views, however, were not associated with performance on the concentration test. Children's nature experiences (time spent in nature and on plant care) were associated with less perceived stress in school and more attentive behavior during lessons. Children's nature experiences were also positively associated with feelings of comfort and learning satisfaction in school. Children's perceived comfort in class was not associated with the naturalness of their interior classroom views (the amount of indoor plants). The teachers suggested that this may be due to no changes being made in the naturalness of the classroom for at least a year. With previous intervention studies, plants newly-added to the classrooms tended to positively impact students' feelings of comfort; but this effect diminished as students got used to the new classroom environment. There were also no associations between the naturalness of interior views and children's self-reported social integration in class. One reason could be that the children already felt integrated in class.
The lack of a significant association between the naturalness of window and interior classroom views is consistent with previous studies measuring attentional capacity. As discussed by the researchers in this and previous studies, the “benefits of natural views might be greater for those who have relatively high levels of stress, and thus high restoration needs, than for those who are quite relaxed.” The fact that students participating in this study had rather low scores on perceived stress, and that the d2-revision tests were conducted immediately after morning break may have contributed to the weak association between the naturalness of window and interior classroom views and the concentration test scores. The overall results of this study support the idea that views of natural elements are beneficial for stress reduction and thus “provide strong arguments for bringing nature closer to schools and in the classroom.”