Nature Positively Affects Childhood Development
by Patrick Boyle, Executive Director, Riveredge Nature Center
Today we live in a society that is becoming increasingly disconnected from the natural world. It’s no secret that children and adults are spending less and less time out of doors in the natural environment. Our local communities are fortunate to have places like Riveredge where people of all ages can connect to the natural world and find solace and enjoyment in simply walking the trails. Solace in nature is just one of the many elements that Riveredge has to offer. We are learning, more than ever, the important role that nature plays in the development of children.
Many recent studies have documented the positive effects of children interacting with nature. Among some of the most notable findings are:
- Children with views of and contact with nature score higher on tests of concentration and self-discipline. The greener, the better the scores (Wells 2000, Taylor 2002).
- Children who play regularly in natural environments show more advanced motor fitness, including coordination, balance and agility, and they are sick less often (Grahn, et al. 1997, Fjortoft 2001).
- Exposure to natural environments improves children’s cognitive development by improving their awareness, reasoning and observational skills (Pyle 2002).
- Nature buffers the impact of life stress on children and helps them deal with adversity. The greater the amount of nature exposure, the greater the benefits (Wells 2003).
- Children with symptoms of Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) are better able to concentrate after contact with nature (Taylor 2001).
- Early positive experiences with the natural environment have been identified repeatedly as one of the “significant life experiences” associated with responsible environmental behavior (Chawla & Hart, 1988; Peterson, 1982; Tanner, 1980)
- Natural environments stimulate social interaction between children (Moore 1986, Bixler, Floyd & Hammutt 2002).
- Outdoor environments are important to children’s development of independence and autonomy (Bartlett 1996).
Please read on for a list of the extensive research and writings that have been conducted. It serves as a powerful reminder of just how vital the existence of places like Riveredge are to our society and culture. Given that Riveredge is one of the oldest nature centers in the area, these findings confirm what we already knew years ago – exposure to the natural world and outdoor education has a positive impact on everyone.
I have experienced the healing effects of nature first hand with my own son. At age four, he has had a very challenging life. He is happiest when he is outside, in nature, and he has experienced many of those happy moments at Riveredge. Determination to explore nature actually led him to take his first baby steps along the trail right behind the main building. Since he has been coming here his entire life, my fondest hope is that Riveredge will be interwoven in some of his first, happy and long-lasting memories.
Riveredge continues to be dedicated to providing opportunities for experiences like my son has had. If you can’t get your children to Riveredge, I encourage you to find somewhere, even if it is simply an urban backyard or city park, to expose your children or the children you know, to the natural world.
Summary of Selected Environmental Education Research
Bartlett, Sheridan (1996). Access to Outdoor Play and Its Implications for Healthy Attachments. Unpublished article, Putney, VT
Bixler, Robert D., Floyd, Myron E. & Hammutt, William E. (2002). Environmental Socialization: Qualitative Tests of the Childhood Play Hypothesis, Environment and Behavior
, 34(6), 795-818
Chawla, Louise and Hart, Roger. (1988). Roots of Environmental Concern, Paths to Co-existence, D. Lawrence et. al., (eds) Washington, DC: Environmental Design Research Association.
Fjortoft, Ingunn (2001). The Natural Environment as a Playground for Children: The Impact of Outdoor Play Activities in Pre-Primary School Children. Early Childhood Education Journal, 29(2): 111-117
Grahn, P., Martensson, F., Llindblad, B., Nilsson, P., & Ekman, A., (1997). UTE pa DAGIS, Stad & Land nr. 93/1991 Sveriges lantbruksuniversitet, Alnarp
Moore, Robin C. (1986). The Power of Nature Orientations of Girls and Boys Toward Biotic and Abiotic Play Settings on a Reconstructed Schoolyard. Children’s Environments Quarterly, 3(3)
Peterson, N.J. (1982). Developmental variables affecting environmental sensitivity in professional environmental educators. Unpublished masters thesis, Southern Illinois University at Carbondale.
Pyle, Robert (2002). Eden in a Vacant Lot: Special Places, Species and Kids in Community of Life. In: Children and Nature: Psychological, Sociocultural and Evolutionary Investigations. Kahn, P.H. and Kellert, S.R. (eds) Cambridge: MIT Press
Tanner, T. (1980). Significant life experience: A new research area in environmental education. Journal of Environmental Education, 11 (4), 20-24.
Taylor, A.F., Kuo, F.E. & Sullivan, W.C. (2001). Coping with ADD: The surprising connection to green play settings. Environment & Behavior, 33(1), 54-77
Wells, Nancy M. (2000). At Home with Nature, Effects of “Greenness” on Children’s Cognitive Functioning, Environment and Behavior, 32(6), 775-795
Wells, Nancy M. & Evans, Gary W. (2003). Nearby Nature: A Buffer of Life Stress Among Rural Children. Environment and Behavior, 35(3), 311-330.
Here are a few more articles that might interest parents and/or educators:
Kuo, Frances E. “Green Play Settings Reduce ADHD Symptoms.” Landscape and Human Health Laboratory, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign (online) http://lhhl.illinois.edu/adhd.htm
Wilson, Ruth A. (1996). “Starting Early: Environmental Education During the Early Childhood Years.” ERIC (Education Resources Information Center ) Digest (online) http://www.eric.ed.gov/PDFS/ED402147.pdf
Books for parents to read:
Louv, Richard. (2005) Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children from Nature-Deficit Disorder. Chapel Hill, NC: Algonquin Books.
Sobel, David. (1996). Beyond Ecophobia: Reclaiming the Heart in Nature Education. Nature Literacy Series, Number 1. Great Barrington, MA: The Orion Society and the Myrin Institute.
Nabhan, Gary Paul, and Trimble, Stephen. (1994). The Geography of Childhood: Why Children Need Wild Places. Boston: Beacon Press.