During the week before Memorial Day, I had the opportunity to attend the Children and Nature Network’s International Conference in St. Paul, Minnesota. I was able to hear from well-known speakers, advocates and professionals in the field of nature play. As a nature-play supporter myself, I was glad to hear that there are so many people out there that are pushing for more outdoor play and experiences for children. So, why does it seem that we still have a long way to go to get outside? Honestly, I’m not sure. It seems as if there are many people “of power” that are dragging their feet on this world issue and instead fighting to keep standards and test scores high. But, the reality is that outdoor play can only enhance those things and be beneficial for children (and adults) as a whole. It doesn’t even have to be time spent on a beautiful multi-million dollar “nature” structure. It doesn’t have to be an experience led by expert naturalists. It just has to be genuine nature adventures like playing in a creek or climbing a tree. While at the conference, I received tons of resources and ideas to spur the movement and do something in my own community.
In one of handouts I picked up, I found an article about the benefits of nature for children. This topic has tons of articles written about it, but this one was particularly interesting because it touched on some “key studies” such as:
1. Concentration and School Achievement
“A study following seventeen 7-12 year olds as they moved from run-down urban housing into better homes in better neighborhoods found that the amount of improvement in natural views and more natural yards best predicted which children would show the highest levels of concentration after the move. In a Swedish study comparing preschool children using a traditional playground with others whose play area contained a field and orchard, the children with the field and orchard showed significantly greater powers of concentration at the end of the year. High school students with more natural features like trees outside classroom and cafeteria windows showed higher standardized test scores, graduation rates and intention to attend college, after controlling for socioeconomic status and other factors.”
2. Emotional Coping and Stress Reduction
“A study with Finnish adolescents found that they often went to natural areas after upsetting events. They said that they could relax there, clear their minds, gain perspective on things and sort out whatever troubled them. Natural areas appear to function this way for younger children as well. A study of 337 rural 8-11 year olds revealed that even when there was a relative abundance of natural surroundings in their lives, more exposure to nature was still better. The study found that regardless of a family’s socioeconomic status, the greener the home surroundings, the more resilient children appeared to be against stress and adversity. The protective effect of nature was strongest for the most vulnerable children who experienced the highest levels of stressful life events.”
3. A Foundation for Stewardship
“When people who demonstrate a commitment to protect the natural world reflect on the sources of their actions, they most frequently mention positive experiences of nature in childhood and parents or other role models who show nature’s value. By itself, childhood play in nature is associated with recycling, buying green products, voting green and the choice of natural areas for recreation in adulthood. The results of a Swiss study suggest that outdoor investigations of nature (rather than indoor study) are the most effective and most popular approach to increase children’s knowledge of biodiversity, especially in easily accessible settings such as school grounds and the local neighborhood.”
4. Reduced Symptoms of ADD and ADHD
“Children diagnosed with attention deficit disorder (ADD) or attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) function better with nature. Children exhibited fewer ADD symptoms after they walked through a park or played outdoors in green settings, and the greener their surroundings, the fewer symptoms they showed. According to a web-based survey of 525 parents of children with ADHD, their children’s symptoms were relieved by leisure activities (other than TV viewing), but especially by leisure in green outdoor settings.”
This particular article was compiled and written by Louise Chawla who is a professor in the College of Architecture and Planning at the University of Colorado. She is a member of the executive committee of the Children, Youth and Environments Center for Research and Design. It was in a publication “The Outside Scoop” put together by Landscape Structures, Inc.
So, even if you didn’t take the time to read through that or even to do your own research, I encourage you to do so. I encourage you to follow my blog as I try to stay abreast of current research and information about nature education and the benefits of being outside. My goal as I begin my Ph.D this fall is to continue to further my own research about this topic and more as it pertains to early childhood education in the state of Nebraska as well as education in the whole United States. Please feel free to contact me if you need or want resources on nature education or have any questions.
Continue to THINK OUTSIDE and thanks for reading!