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Child Development

The Power of Plants to Help Children Focus

Creating environments for better living and learning.

Key points

  • Biophilia refers to the inherent human affinity for the natural world.
  • Studies highlight the impact of biophilia on attention restoration and cognitive function in adults.
  • Manipulating biophilic design captures preschoolers' attention.
Source: Brina Blum/Unsplash
Source: Brina Blum/Unsplash

Our homes are filled with constant distractions. This can make maintaining focus challenging. As our lives become intertwined with technology and artificial environments, we find ourselves longing for a sense of tranquility and mental clarity. Fortunately, the solution may lie in our innate connection to nature. Biophilia refers to the inherent human affinity for the natural world.

Recent studies highlight the profound impact of biophilia on attention restoration and cognitive function. Whether it be a serene forest or a vibrant garden, spending time in nature restores our mental resources. Attention restoration theory (ART) suggests that exposure to natural environments allows for effortless attention, providing a respite from the mental fatigue caused by sustained, directed attention. Engaging with natural elements, such as sunlight, plants, and water features, promotes relaxation, reduces stress, and improves overall well-being.

Biophilic design, an approach incorporating natural elements into the built environment, has gained recognition for its potential to improve attention and overall well-being. This design philosophy integrates features such as living walls, water installations, natural materials, and access to outdoor spaces to create a harmonious and engaging atmosphere. The presence of these elements in indoor spaces stimulates our innate biophilia, fostering a sense of connection with nature. As a result, individuals experience enhanced attentional capacities and improved cognitive function.

Research shows that the placement of natural elements, such as plants indoors exerts a restorative effect on well-being and cognitive performance among adults. In new research published in Buildings, researchers tested the effects of plants on children’s desks. In a high-biophilic-design condition, preschool children saw four plants placed on their desks. In a low-biophilic-design condition, children saw no plants on their desks. The children viewed a series of abstract images on a computer screen while their visual attention was measured with an eye tracker. Researchers found that the durations of the children’s first fixations were significantly higher in the high-biophilic design than in the low-biophilic design. This study is the first to show the impact of manipulating biophilic design on preschoolers' attention. These findings highlight the importance of integrating elements of nature in schools and at home.

Here are some tips for incorporating biophilic design into the home:

  1. Maximize natural light. Allow ample natural light to enter your space by using large windows, skylights, or glass doors.
  2. Incorporate living greenery. Introduce indoor plants to your living spaces. Choose a variety of plants that thrive indoors and are easy to care for, such as spider plants, pothos, or peace lilies. Greenery adds a refreshing touch, improves air quality, and reduces stress.
  3. Use natural materials. Embrace natural materials like wood, stone, and bamboo in your furniture, flooring, and decor. These materials provide a tactile and authentic connection to nature, creating a warm and inviting atmosphere.
  4. Create a green wall or vertical garden. Consider installing a green wall or vertical garden in your home. This vertical arrangement of plants not only acts as a striking focal point but also maximizes the presence of nature within limited spaces.
  5. Incorporate water features. Add a water element, such as a small indoor fountain or a tabletop water feature, to introduce the calming effect of flowing water. The sound and sight of water can create a soothing ambiance reminiscent of natural environments.
  6. Optimize natural views. Arrange your furniture and living spaces to maximize views of the outdoors. Position seating areas near windows or glass doors, providing you with a visual connection to the surrounding greenery or natural landscape.
  7. Use natural color palettes. Choose earthy and nature-inspired colors for your walls, furnishings, and decor. Soft greens, warm browns, and muted blues can evoke a sense of tranquility and bring the outdoors inside.
  8. Incorporate natural textures. Introduce textures that mimic those found in nature, such as woven baskets, textured rugs, or wooden accents. These tactile elements add depth and visual interest to your space, enhancing the biophilic experience.
  9. Create a nature-inspired focal point. Install a nature-inspired focal point, such as a fireplace with a stone surround or a large art piece depicting natural landscapes. This focal point can serve as a visual anchor and reinforce the connection to the natural world.
  10. Outdoor living spaces. Extend your biophilic design principles to your outdoor areas by creating a welcoming and comfortable outdoor living space. Arrange seating, add potted plants, and incorporate natural materials to create a seamless transition from indoors to outdoors.

Remember, biophilic design aims to create a nurturing environment that enhances your well-being and reconnects you with nature. Be creative and adapt these tips to your personal style and preferences to create a home embodying biophilia. Try it out and create some calm and better focus.


Fadda R, Congiu S, Roeyers H, Skoler T. Elements of Biophilic Design Increase Visual Attention in Preschoolers. Buildings. 2023; 13(5):1160.

More from Maithri Sivaraman, Ph.D., and Tricia Striano Skoler Ph.D.
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