Skip to main content

Natural Awakenings Greater Boston - Rhode Island

Kids and Nature: Growing Up with Trees

Mar 31, 2021 09:31AM ● By Wendy Nadherny Fachon
Tree planting in urban areas helps children and their families begin to overcome health inequities, such as obesity and asthma, directly associated with living in impoverished city neighborhoods. In a newsletter devoted to the childhood connection to trees, the Arbor Day Foundation shared survey results indicating that more than 90 percent of parents felt their children would be more likely to play or exercise in a space with trees compared to a space without trees. That is because trees beautify play spaces, offer shade on hot summer days, remove pollutant particles from the air and provide oxygen. Additional health studies show that children living in neighborhoods with more green space have fewer emotional problems and higher levels of cognitive development than those in less green neighborhoods.

Residential Tree Planting

There are many ways children and their families can become directly involved with improving the landscape of their neighborhoods. When people think of urban green space, generally they think of parks filled with trees, playing fields and playgrounds. City improvement plans established by Providence and Boston include programs that oversee the planting, care and management of street trees. Residents can help by planting and tending trees in front of their own properties, and their children can adopt these trees and care for them. Tree planting is an ideal opportunity for young people to care for something meaningful, while engaging in hands-on biology.

The benefits of residential trees include adding property value, cooling air temperature, sequestering atmospheric carbon, mitigating the effects of drought and reducing water usage. Young trees only require between 10 to 20 gallons of water every week to maintain, as compared to lawns, which require approximately 62 gallons for every 10-square-foot patch weekly.

In Providence, all planting in the city right-of-way must be approved through the Parks Forestry Division, which provides three options. One option is to obtain free trees by applying to the Providence Neighborhood Planting Program (PNPP) for a “group award.”  A second option is for individuals to match half the planting cost and request to have the tree planted through the PNPP.  The third option is to apply for a tree planting permit to plant one’s own tree.

Boston residents can request trees from a list of underwire and small species or a list of medium-to-tall species. Approved species are cold-hardy to the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) Gardening Zone 5. City forestry divisions will work with landlords, residents, schools and businesses to recommend and plant street trees and to show how to care for the trees properly. The city of Providence provides a list of species recommended by the city forestor. These trees are chosen for their ability to withstand drought, pollution and other urban stresses. The list includes various species of maple, oak and linden, as well as river birch, London planetree, bald cypress and others.

School Involvement

Schools can engage in community tree planting through Tree-Plenish, a youth-led, nonprofit which has developed a meaningful mission and an engaging strategy to help schools provide trees to local residents. Schools consume a lot of paper, from worksheets and homework assignments to notebooks and tests. Tree-Plenish’s mission is to create more sustainable schools by replenishing the surrounding environment with these lost resources. Student leaders determine how much paper their school uses on an annual basis and calculate the number of trees required to produce that much paper. Then they plan an event in their community, with the goal of planting a target number of trees to offset the paper usage.

Individual kids, families and schools can also engage in tree learning and advocacy through art. This year, 15-Minute Field Trips, a nonprofit dedicated to environmental advocacy through the arts, outdoor education and community action, has partnered with the Guild of Natural Science Illustrators of New England to sponsor an art exhibit called Tree Power. Youth and adults are encouraged to submit 2-D art depicting how a tree’s structure and function can reduce the effects of climate change and increase social justice. Entries are due by April 30, and the exhibit will educate the public about the positive effects trees have on the environment and social well-being of all classes of people. More details are available at

The simple fact is that tree planting supports environmental health and public health on several different levels. Trees, with their simple presence, create welcoming outdoor recreation space, reduce stress, increase positive social interactions and even reduce crime rates.

Wendy Nadherny Fachon is an environmental educator, a regular contributor to Natural Awakenings magazine and host of the Story Walking Radio Hour. To learn more, visit