When you think of your kids and sunshine in the same sentence, do you automatically reach for the sun block, close the curtains and generally batten down the hatches? Exposure to the sun has been much maligned in recent decades and while you are acutely aware of the harm the sun can do, are you cognizant of its overwhelming benefits?
Benefits in the classroom
Since the 1940’s, several studies have shown the importance of natural light in the classroom. A study by Hawkins and Lilley in 1992 concluded that natural light in the classroom improves concentration, mental attitude and vision. Children also felt more comfortable and happier in rooms that had an abundance of natural light. Poorly lit classrooms resulted in hyperactivity and lack of concentration.
Heschong and Mahone (1999) studied the effect of lighting on academic achievement. They studied over 2000 classrooms across three school districts and discovered that students who studied in classrooms where at least 20% of the wall space was devoted to windows achieved significantly higher scores than students who studied in artificially lit rooms. Students in classrooms with abundant natural lighting scored 20% higher on math tests and 26% higher on reading tests.
Insufficient sunshine, and the resultant lack of Vitamin D, can increase your risk of cancer by 70%. Children who are Vitamin D deficient have less bone density and weaker immune systems. Low bone density and a weak immune systems can result in the early onset of several diseases including learning and behavioural disorders, depression and seasonal affective disorder (SAD), an increase in allergies, type one and two diabetes, heart disease and obesity, cavities, psoriasis and osteoporosis, among others.
Circadian rhythms are endogenous cycles which see your body releasing certain chemicals throughout the day. Biochemical and physiological triggers help you to wake up in the morning or fall asleep at night. Not getting enough sunlight at the right times of the day disturbs your circadian rhythms and this may lead to fatigue and interrupted sleep cycles. Not getting enough sleep can severely affect your child’s concentration and behaviour in class.
Sunshine helps to activate the liver which in turn breaks down toxins in the body. Sunshine also elevates mood and should be part of your child’s daily routine. Although naturally lit rooms are preferable, humans need very little daily exposure to the sun to get their requisite vitamin D intake. 15-20 minutes a day in non-peak times should be sufficient to get your daily rays without any of the negative effects of extended exposure.
While you still need to limit the amount of direct exposure your children get to the sun, make sure that they get their daily dose. Choose schools which have classrooms that are well lit. Make sure that the area where your child studies is flooded with natural light. If you think your child is not getting enough sunshine, consider a vitamin D supplement.