Forests promote health and well-being among school pupils

Press release 2018-08-30 at 12:46
Koulujen etäisyys metsästä

(Picture: Marianna Korpi)

Forests promote health and well-being among school pupils. The Finnish Environment Institute has made an analysis based on spatial data on the location of primary and secondary schools with relation to forest in the Helsinki region and in the urban areas of Tampere and Turku. Two out of five primary schools are located at a distance of more than 300 metres from the forest.

According to recent research the proximity of nature clearly has positive effects on a child's development: nature has a refreshing effect on the individual, and nature contacts bring more versatility to the body's microbial flora while strengthening immune defences. When it is established in childhood, a positive relationship with nature fills the prerequisites for environmentally responsible behaviour also as an adult. To achieve such benefits it would be beneficial to integrate nearby nature into the curriculum.

The Finnish Environment Institute has analysed the distance of green areas from school in the Sitra-funded "Sustainable Well-being" project with the help of spatial data. According to the study there are usually parks near the schools of Finland's largest urban areas, but it is often a fairly long distance to a forest.

Forty percent of primary schools were at a distance of more than 300 metres to a forest.

Under examination were primary and secondary schools in the Helsinki region and the urban areas of Tampere and Turku. According to a recommendation by the Ministry of the Environment, the distance to a green area should be no more than 300 metres for it to be easily accessible.

Primary school pupils move independently only in a rather small area.  It is therefore essential have green areas especially near primary schools.

"The more diverse the nature of the green area is, the more versatile its benefits will be. This is a reason why forests function as important playgrounds and classrooms close to school ", says Riikka Paloniemi of the Finnish Environment Institute (SYKE). She is the head of the Behavioral Change Unit. According to the study primary schools actually tend to be closer to a forest than secondary schools are. However, in all areas under analysis about 40 percent of primary schools are located more than 300 metres from a forest.

Secondary schools further from forests in Tampere and Turku

There were greater differences in distances of secondary schools from forests between different urban areas. In the Helsinki region 38 percent of secondary schools are located at distances of more than 300 metres from a forest. In the regions of Tampere and Turku there were considerably more of these schools that are located further from the forest: Of the secondary schools in the Tampere area 64 percent, and 58 percent of those in the Turku region area located more than 300 metres from a forest.

Some green areas can be found near most schools. Only 11 of all primary schools analysed (383) are not located in the vicinity of a forest or a park. Three of these schools are in the Helsinki region, and two in the Tampere, and six in the Turku regions. Of all of the secondary schools analysed (174) only one school in the Turku area was also at a distance of more than 300 metres from a park.

"It is worthwhile to regularly visit nearby green areas. Because an increasing number of children live in urban environments, the importance of urban green areas and urban forests in the exposure of children to nature is growing", emphasises Riikka Paloniemi.

In all three studied urban areas the use of land was also analysed near schools in the zones of different community structures. In all three urban regions the least amount of forest near schools is in the pedestrian zone and the second least in the public transport zone. The greatest amount of forest is in the car zone. SYKE has previously analysed the distance of day care centres in the Helsinki area from green areas.


Futher information:

Forests promote health and well-being among school pupils:  Finland and sustainable well-being

Riikka Paloniemi, Head of the Behavioral Change Unit, Finnish Environment Institute (SYKE),
tel. +358 29 525 1493,

Leena Rantajärvi, Communications expert, Finnish Environment Istitute (SYKE)
tel. +358 29 525 1543,

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