Posted: 24 June, 2019

Breathing Space – Bringing Nature into the Classroom

Blog, General, In the Press, News, Pastoral, Senior School, Sixth Form

Wellbeing and the environment go hand in hand at Putney. Last year we launched our BREATHE programme with the aim of demonstrating how, even with relatively small steps, we could all make a big difference to improving our everyday environment.  We reduced our carbon footprint and showed how as a school community, we could together cut everything from pollution levels to unnecessary waste.

The opening campaign was a great success, getting us walking to school, recycling more efficiently, and measurably reducing our use of energy and single use plastics. But with the advent of an exciting new development at the school, our Science, Music, Drama and Debating Centre, we decided to take the project further, undertaking a more detailed study of the school’s green infrastructure, and looking at how we could use nature to enhance the indoor learning environment for our students every day.

It is no secret that when it comes to physical and mental wellbeing, the benefits of spending time outdoors, fresh air, sunshine, greenery, are hard to beat. They have a wonderful effect, allowing us to calm our minds in ways that actually stimulate us into better creative thinking. But how could we translate this to the classroom environment, particularly in a busy London school, with the challenges that we all share simply by living and working in a major city?

So, with the onset of the central heating season, we undertook a four month project that quite literally, brought the outside in. The experiment in “Biophilic design” highlighted how plants and views of nature could actually boost health, wellbeing, focus and even productivity in the classroom.

Biophilic Classroom

The study began with the transformation of three otherwise similar Sixth Form classrooms. The first, a maths classroom was modified with an extensive array of indoor plants, the second an English classroom, with a full-size photographic wall mural of a woodland, and the last, a Psychology classroom, was left unchanged. All three classrooms were monitored for air quality and atmosphere, and observed for concentration levels and feelings of wellbeing of the staff and students that spent time in them.

The results were impressive. The re-design of the classrooms created some really bright and energising spaces and after four months, 78% of our pupils told us they actually ‘felt healthier’. Not only did the study demonstrate a measurable improvement in brain boosting oxygen, but perhaps more interestingly, it showed a marked change in the behaviour and perceptions of those involved. Students commented on how the classrooms were so much more “relaxing”. “The plants really have a calming effect. They change the atmosphere for sure,” said Sophia, a Year 13 student who was actively involved in caring for the plants.

This weekend in The Times, we heard how Westminster city council plans to instigate the first reviews of air pollution in and around some of the worst affected schools in the country. We were featured as a school that is taking active steps to show just how improvements can be made, and with relatively simple initiatives. It may not be rocket science, but by bringing nature into the classroom and with a little thoughtful design, we can significantly impact on both wellbeing and the ability to learn. It seems that a little “blue sky thinking” can actually go a long way.


Read more in The Times

Read more in School House Magazine



With thanks to photographer, Matthew Cattell

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