Adults note that modern children have less contact with nature and play outdoors less often than they did at their age. Intuition tells us that being surrounded by wildlife has a beneficial effect on many areas of life. Science supports this belief. Learn about the benefits of connecting with nature.
A name was even coined: “nature-deficit disorder,” which, however, is not a medical term. Nevertheless, more and more experts warn that lack of frequent contact with nature has real consequences for people, especially children. No surprise; many studies show that contact with nature supports the therapy of serious disorders such as ADHD or autism spectrum disorders, improves concentration and motor coordination, regenerates the mind and body.
Meanwhile, all over the world – not only in developed countries – the number of people whose contact with nature is limited to a minimum is increasing. Many adults recall the charm of their childhood without access to technology, time spent in backyards, vacations in the countryside. But while we long for it ourselves, modern parents often fail to provide it for their children.
Richard Louv, author of “The Last Child of the Forest. How to Save Our Children from Nature-Deficit Syndrome” argues that urbanized lifestyles, including fewer natural spaces, more cars, more time spent in front of a screen, less leisure time, and increased time pressures at work or school, significantly reduce contact with nature for both adults and children. Louv co-founded the Children and Nature Network (C-NN) to promote play in nature.
How outdoor play supports children
An American Institutes for Research (AIR) study conducted back in 2006 found that sixth-grade students who participated in three outdoor education programs had better conflict resolution skills.
A 2013 study in China involving 60,000 children aged 2 to 17 found that regular exposure to nature or “greenery” around their schools reduced the prevalence of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). A more recent study at the University of Illinois found similar results.
Other studies have linked lack of outdoor time in children to:
- increased rates of obesity,
- vitamin D deficiency,
- higher levels of aggression,
- increased rates of depression,
- poor academic performance,
- lower ability to cope with stress,
- poor attention span,
- lower well-being.
Conversely, a meta-review of 143 other studies published in the journal Environmental Research found that people with access to green space tend to have slower heart rates, lower blood pressure and lower blood levels of the stress hormone cortisol.
In contrast, researchers at Anglia Ruskin University noted that contact with nature has a beneficial effect on self-image. What’s more, they believe there are benefits even from looking at pictures of nature.
“There are several reasons why contact with nature can have a positive effect on a person’s perception of their body. It may be that it allows people to physically as well as mentally distance themselves from situations that exacerbate their negative self-image,” explained study author Professor Viren Swami Anglia Ruskin University.
Survey results from one company’s HEAD UPPERS 2021 campaign show that 86 per cent of parents say they enjoy being outside with their children – much more than their children do. According to 63 per cent of parents, this is not happening in their children’s generation because of the younger generation’s addiction to technology.
However, C-NN’s experience, as well as that of organizers of scout camps and events or equestrian camps, shows that children love activities and excursions into nature and almost magically forget about their smartphones. So how about adding to your New Year’s resolutions the one about trips to the woods or parks on weekends?