Health and Habitat

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Friends of Rye Nature Center is halfway through the first year of Forest Preschool. When assessing the success of the program, not only do we take into account the information that the children are learning, but also their happiness and health. Research has shown that across the board, those with access to nature tend to live a happier, healthier, and more stress-free lifestyle.

Florence Williams, author of "The Nature Fix," travels across the globe to understand how nature allows us to live a better quality of life. One area of her travels that struck me as impressive was her journey to Singapore, the third most densely populated country in the world. Before arriving, Williams explored the patterns of anxiety, negativity, and mood disorders increasing in people who are crammed into small, urban spaces. While in Singapore, Williams visited a Khoo Teck Puat hospital, nicknamed, "hospital in a garden." This one-of-a-kind health center has rooms for patients that overlook gardens and trees. It even has an organic, rooftop vegetable garden. This hospital has noted that its patients are having lower blood pressure and better physical exams as a result of getting to enjoy plenty of greenery during their stay.

In addition, Geoffrey Donovan, an urban forester in the United States studied the effects of environmental change on human health. The emerald ash borer, a non-native insect that attacks all native varieties of ash trees arrived in America in 2002. By the time Donovan completed his study in 2013, over 100 million ash trees were destroyed by these beetles. The people living in these areas were beginning to feel the impact of this loss. There was a significant increase in people suffering from lower respiratory disease as well as cardiovascular disease. Could it really be this loss of nature that caused a drop in human health? According to Donovan's study, this is definitely the case.

Here at Forest Preschool we are noticing some amazing effects on human health for both our students and our teachers. As of January 1, 2018, in a class of ten children coming to class five days per week, there have been fewer than ten total absences due to illness, and among 3 full-time teachers and one volunteer, there has been only one illness absence since September. Healthy students and staff are making for a very happy and creative program, which means we will definitely continue breathing in our forest fresh air.

- Allison Bedosky, Education Director