A literature review finding that increased contact with nature is associated with positive attributes of children’s health, behaviour and learning.
Environments containing natural elements (such as trees, rocks, water) provide people with unique and unrivalled mentally restorative settings. It is evident from international research that nature contact is associated with positive physical and mental health for adults, and increasing evidence indicates children also benefit from contact with nature, as it supports their personal and social development, as well as mental and physical health. This is particularly important given the many concerns surrounding the status of physical, mental and social health of many youth today.
Changes in western culture have led to children spending less time outside than previous generations. A vast majority of children spend more than the recommended two hours a day in front of electronic screens and increasingly, it appears many children spend only small amounts of outside time. These changes have resulted in a reduction in the time children spend in contact with nature, an activity that they enjoy and consider an important part of their life.
The reduction in contact with nature is concerning; through mechanisms such as reversing fatigue, providing varied learning environments, enhancing social cohesion and support and providing important micro-organisms, contact with nature is thought to be associated with various aspects of children’s health, behaviour and learning.
This report reviews original research studies and finds that increased contact with nature is associated with positive attributes of children’s health, behaviour and learning.
Specifically, the evidence to date indicates that:
There is a decreased risk of children being overweight when more nature is present in their neighbourhood.
Playing in natural environments assists with building children’s motor skills.
Nature contact enhances children’s learning and development. Programs increasing nature contact have identified beneficial effects on children’s personality development, cognitive functioning, attitude and school behaviour.
- Contact with nature, especially during middle childhood, has been indicated as having an important role to play in children’s mental health
- Children’s manage stress better when they have more contact with nature.
- Time in nature assists the performance of children with ADHD.
- Children displaying delinquent behaviour benefit from nature-based programs such as wilderness camps.
New programs to promote increases in children’ contact with nature are available both in Australia and internationally, however evaluation and research as to their effectiveness is required. Whilst more research will assist with establishing the role of nature in enhancing children’s lives, sufficient evidence is available now to indicate that there is an imperative to promote the substantial reestablishment of nature into children’s lives.