KOTA examines how greening of kindergarten yards affects children’s health and well-being in urban environment. In urbanized societies immune-mediated diseases such as type 1 diabetes, asthma, and allergies have increased rapidly. The improvement of hygiene levels and diminishing contact with nature has reduced our exposure to microbes needed for the proper development of human immune system. The reduced green space in cities and the declining level of unstructured physical activity affect especially children as major developments in immune system occur during the first years of life. Interacting with nature also increases perceived well-being and promotes environmental responsibility.
For transforming the yards of kindergartens, we use forest floor vegetation, sod, peat blocks, and planters for vegetable and flower growing. The personnel introduce green materials into children’s various activities as much as possible. Six kindergarten yards in the cities of Lahti, Tampere, and Espoo, Finland, are transformed in 2016–2017. In non-modified control kindergartens daily activities continues as usual.
First, we examine how increasing contact with vegetation and soil altered the children’s microbiota and modulated their immune system during one month period. Data consist of microbial samples (skin, saliva, stool) and blood samples. Based on previous studies, it is hypothesized that this intervention would change the children’s microbial flora and increase the abundance of health-associated environmental microbes. Second, survey- and interview-based data is used to investigate how the intervention influences children’s physical exercise and play in the yard, their relationship with nature, and perceived well-being. Preliminary results suggest that green infrastructure diversifies children’s activities in the yard, increases the comfort of the yards, and even seems to improve the air quality. The results will be used in designing health-enhancing yards of kindergartens, schools, retirement homes, and other public buildings.