A child's relationship with nature can be rich with imagination, wonder, and ingenuity. Educational initiatives that include time in nature are shown to serve children's physical and mental health as well as boost academic performance.
Children around the world are spending less time outdoors and more time indoors engaging with technological devices. According to a 2010 study by The Kaiser Family Foundation, children in the United States devote more than seven hours a day to electronic media use. Research shows that spending more time in nature can provide many physical and mental health benefits for both adults and children.* Outdoor time can improve eyesight, reduce obesity, and reduce stress in children, according to the North Carolina State University Natural Learning Initiative. Mental health benefits include decreased Attention Deficit Disorder, enhanced cognitive abilities, and improvement in academic performance.**
Author and journalist Richard Louv, in his 2005 book, Last Child in the Woods, coined the term nature deficit disorder. Louv links behavioral problems in children with less time in nature and emphasizes the need for unstructured, imaginative play for healthy child development. Movements are gaining ground in the United States and around the world to encourage and support more time in nature for children.*** According to The New York Times, part of this trend includes an increase in the number of outdoor preschools that offer nature as a central experience for young children.****
Anna Frances Ewert's short film, Into the Middle of Nowhere, documents a nursery in a forest of Fife, Scotland, where 3 to 5-year-olds let their imaginations soar while playing with each other outdoors in the natural elements. Adult caregivers at the nursery observe the children with little or no interference, allowing the wonder and magic of each child's relationship with nature to be expressed to the fullest.
Connections to National Standards
Common Core English Language Arts. W.9-10.2 and W.11-12.2. Write informative/explanatory texts to examine and convey complex ideas, concepts, and information clearly and accurately through the effective selection, organization, and analysis of content.
College, Career, and Civic Life (C3) Framework for Social Studies. D2.Psy.2.9-12. Investigate human behavior from biological, cognitive, behavioral, and sociocultural perspectives.
Next Generation Science Standards. HS-LS2-8. Evaluate the evidence for the role of group behavior on individual and species' chances to survive and reproduce.