Research Topic

Building Foundations: How Neighborhood Social and Built Environment Factors Impact Children’s Learning

About this Research Topic

The structured environments in which children live influence their future trajectories in intricate ways. Neighborhoods and zip codes can predict children’s likelihood of later success and are linked to outcomes as broad as problem behaviors, risk for incarceration, and earning potential. The built environment comprises the human-constructed, physical attributes of the spaces in which people live and work (e.g., infrastructure, building and structural features, walkability and recreation, availability of health promoting resources, proximity to liquor stores, fast food restaurants, strip malls). Complementary to the built environment is the social environment, which includes the socioeconomic composition of the resident population and social aspects of neighborhoods (crime, noise, community support, collective efficacy, social cohesion and collaboration for community benefit), social capital (i.e., collective value gained from social networks), and disorder (e.g., presence of trash, graffiti, disorderly groups and/or activity). Understanding how the broader environments in which children live play a role in shaping the way they learn is a needed step to understanding the underlying mechanisms that link environment to developmental outcomes.

This Research Topic aims to be complementary and builds from a rapidly growing emphasis in the social and behavioral sciences on unpacking the role that social determinants play in children’s health. The focus for this special issue will be on characterizing how the built and social environments relate to and impact processes that underlie learning and academic achievement – factors that moderate and mediate the association between the built and social environments and learning outcomes. The intent is to motivate a focus beyond the individual and family or dyadic relationships to understand how the broader structural and systemic features of a child’s environment shape the way they learn.

This proposed thematic issue encourages manuscripts investigating specific feature(s) of the built or social environment and how they jointly or independently relate to individual differences in cognitive or social and emotional processes that are known to underlie learning and achievement. These processes can include attention, memory, elaboration, executive functioning processes, underlying brain architecture and the neurological underpinnings of learning, social and emotional processes that are directly linked to learning outcomes, and engagement and motivation. The goal of this work would be to examine potentially malleable environmental features that can be targeted through programs and policies to benefit children’s learning and achievement outcomes, with an emphasis on populations of underserved children in low-resource environments.

The built environment may include but are not limited to:
• Neighborhood noise, crowding, pollution, and density
• Transportation, walkability, green spaces (also car free zones)
• Building infrastructure and structural features (also disrepair, dilapidation)
• Utility infrastructure and delivery (e.g., lighting, water, sewage)
• Physical design of spaces in which children live and grow
• Proximity to disadvantageous features (e.g., liquor stores, strip malls, freeways, factories, garbage or waste facilities)
• Disrepair

The neighborhood social environment may include but is not limited to:
• Social cohesion
• Crime and violence
• Social capital
• Disorderliness and disrepair (graffiti vandalism, trash)
• Community-based programming
• Collective efficacy
• Structural discrimination (residential, housing, criminal justice policies, structural ableism)


Keywords: children, education, built environment, learning, disparities


Important Note: All contributions to this Research Topic must be within the scope of the section and journal to which they are submitted, as defined in their mission statements. Frontiers reserves the right to guide an out-of-scope manuscript to a more suitable section or journal at any stage of peer review.

The structured environments in which children live influence their future trajectories in intricate ways. Neighborhoods and zip codes can predict children’s likelihood of later success and are linked to outcomes as broad as problem behaviors, risk for incarceration, and earning potential. The built environment comprises the human-constructed, physical attributes of the spaces in which people live and work (e.g., infrastructure, building and structural features, walkability and recreation, availability of health promoting resources, proximity to liquor stores, fast food restaurants, strip malls). Complementary to the built environment is the social environment, which includes the socioeconomic composition of the resident population and social aspects of neighborhoods (crime, noise, community support, collective efficacy, social cohesion and collaboration for community benefit), social capital (i.e., collective value gained from social networks), and disorder (e.g., presence of trash, graffiti, disorderly groups and/or activity). Understanding how the broader environments in which children live play a role in shaping the way they learn is a needed step to understanding the underlying mechanisms that link environment to developmental outcomes.

This Research Topic aims to be complementary and builds from a rapidly growing emphasis in the social and behavioral sciences on unpacking the role that social determinants play in children’s health. The focus for this special issue will be on characterizing how the built and social environments relate to and impact processes that underlie learning and academic achievement – factors that moderate and mediate the association between the built and social environments and learning outcomes. The intent is to motivate a focus beyond the individual and family or dyadic relationships to understand how the broader structural and systemic features of a child’s environment shape the way they learn.

This proposed thematic issue encourages manuscripts investigating specific feature(s) of the built or social environment and how they jointly or independently relate to individual differences in cognitive or social and emotional processes that are known to underlie learning and achievement. These processes can include attention, memory, elaboration, executive functioning processes, underlying brain architecture and the neurological underpinnings of learning, social and emotional processes that are directly linked to learning outcomes, and engagement and motivation. The goal of this work would be to examine potentially malleable environmental features that can be targeted through programs and policies to benefit children’s learning and achievement outcomes, with an emphasis on populations of underserved children in low-resource environments.

The built environment may include but are not limited to:
• Neighborhood noise, crowding, pollution, and density
• Transportation, walkability, green spaces (also car free zones)
• Building infrastructure and structural features (also disrepair, dilapidation)
• Utility infrastructure and delivery (e.g., lighting, water, sewage)
• Physical design of spaces in which children live and grow
• Proximity to disadvantageous features (e.g., liquor stores, strip malls, freeways, factories, garbage or waste facilities)
• Disrepair

The neighborhood social environment may include but is not limited to:
• Social cohesion
• Crime and violence
• Social capital
• Disorderliness and disrepair (graffiti vandalism, trash)
• Community-based programming
• Collective efficacy
• Structural discrimination (residential, housing, criminal justice policies, structural ableism)


Keywords: children, education, built environment, learning, disparities


Important Note: All contributions to this Research Topic must be within the scope of the section and journal to which they are submitted, as defined in their mission statements. Frontiers reserves the right to guide an out-of-scope manuscript to a more suitable section or journal at any stage of peer review.

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Submission Deadlines

30 December 2021 Abstract
30 April 2022 Manuscript

Participating Journals

Manuscripts can be submitted to this Research Topic via the following journals:

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Topic Editors

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Submission Deadlines

30 December 2021 Abstract
30 April 2022 Manuscript

Participating Journals

Manuscripts can be submitted to this Research Topic via the following journals:

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