Do natural environments benefit children?

Posted on 12th June 2013

It is increasingly reported that children are spending less time in natural environments and that their health and wellbeing are suffering because of it. But is there any truth in these assertions? PhD Student Rebecca Jenkin considers the existing evidence for the ways in which parks, woodland and the coast can benefit children.

Delving into the research that has been done in the area of health and wellbeing in relation to natural environments reveals a stark contrast between the amount of work completed with children, and that which has been completed with adults.

Research with adults has been going on for around 30 years, highlighting specific benefits of nature such as increasing our generosity, buffering us from stress and improving our cognitive ability. More recently researchers at the Centre have compared people’s health and wellbeing in relation to where they live, finding that those closer to the coast and living closer to urban green spaces have higher health and wellbeing.

Even though there is a smaller amount of research completed with children, the initial evidence that natural environments have health and wellbeing benefits for them is promising. Similar to the findings with adults, research suggests nature can buffer children from stress and improve their cognitive ability. Outdoor spaces also give children the opportunity to have space away from adults, allowing them to develop friendships and social interactions. Importantly, children who spend more time in nature have a greater connection towards it, and therefore have more interest in performing environmentally friendly behaviours. This connection to nature may be essential in the future as climate change and its impact become an ever greater issue.

On-going research is exploring these benefits further, with initiatives such as Natural Connections and Ecominds carrying out large scale projects which involve children in the natural environment.

My own area of research is focusing on investigating whether natural environments can aid children’s self-control, you can find out more about this study here.

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