Executive Function: A Breath of Fresh Air

As educators, we know we need to do everything we can to help our students learn their best. We use everything from executive function strategies and fidget toys to strategy reflection sheets and beyond, but have you considered a few simple house plants?

There is a proven effect on air quality and cognitive function. A study by Harvard University in 2016 measured the effect of various indoor air pollutants and CO2 levels on cognitive functions of adults working in an office building. They compared a typical office building with a high level of volatile organic compounds (VOCs), a green environment with low VOCs, and a green+ environment with low VOCs and sophisticated filtering technology.

The results showed a significant difference in cognitive function, especially in the areas of “crisis response, strategy, and information usage.” On average, individuals in the green environments scored 61% higher on tests of cognitive function compared to those in typical office environments, and individuals in the green+ did even better.

So, if we want to support our students’ executive function, we have to think about the environment in which they’re learning. Many teachers create beautiful learning environments that support executive function, using space creatively to scaffold and support learning. It might also be a good idea to find room for a few house plants.

Making your classroom greener is sure to have many benefits for you and your students. In addition to cleaning the air (check out these top air-filtering plants), your students can help take care of the plants and learn about responsibility. Plus, including nature in indoor spaces makes people happier, and happy brains learn better!

  • Michael Greschler, M.Ed., SMARTS Director