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.