How does being outside in nature make you feel?
Imagine lying in soft green grass, watching wispy white clouds drift across a cornflower blue sky. Or transport yourself to an old growth forest with gnarly old trees covered in lush green moss, inhale the piney earthiness, wander through the dappled light and hear sweet birdsong from above.
Nature is an awesome backdrop to so many special and everyday moments in our lives. We play, rest, exercise and connect with others on beaches, in parks, forests, by lakes, on mountains and in backyards. And the benefits nature offers are far-reaching: physiologically it boosts our immune systems, promotes healing and increases life expectancy; psychologically and emotionally it promotes well-being, makes us feel alive with uplifting and energizing effects, helps us feel calmer, less anxious or stressed and relieves attention fatigue. It also helps build social connection and increases prosocial behaviour.
Children reap the same benefits from nature with research demonstrating that it improves children’s social interactions, helps them make friends, reduces bullying, improves problem solving skills and concentration, encourages creativity, and reduces levels of stress, depression and symptoms of ADHD.
Intuitively it makes sense that humans are genetically hardwired to connect with nature and that we benefit from it innumerable ways. These benefits are continuously reaffirmed by recent studies showing the powerful impact nature has on us. Despite this knowledge humans are retreating indoors. Canadian children are spending three times more time indoors, on digital media, than they do outside in nature. Richard Louv, Co-Founder of the Children & Nature Network, argues, in his influential book Last Child in the Woods, that nature-deficit disorder is widespread, with children suffering from diminished use of the senses, attention difficulties, and higher rates of physical and emotional illnesses.
In his enlightening book “How to Raise a Wild Child - The Art and Science of Falling in Love with Nature” Dr. Scott Sampson, Executive Director of the California Academy of Sciences and a leading voice in highlighting the vital role of nature in children’s well-being, outlines factors that keep children indoors, including the digital revolution, media induced safety fears, overscheduling and leaving little time for unstructured play, and lack of access to green spaces as nature is swallowed up by urban sprawl.
Dr. Sampson outlines what we can do to help children fall in LOVE with nature:
- Get outside with them - make family outdoor time a priority and plan for it.
- Make new habits - get into nature more often. Older children may need more coaxing so he suggests using your imagination and encouraging them outside to play fun games. The key is to set up nature as the fun, preferred option for playtime.
- Model - show kids how much you value nature through your actions and how grateful you are for it.
- No tragedies before fourth grade - often before children have a chance to connect with the natural world we burden them with tales of climate change, vanishing habitats and species extinction which can lead to kids feeling worried and pessimistic about our planet’s future. The key is to first try and engage children and show them how nature can foster “powerful feelings of wonder, awe, mystery, joy–and, yes, fear.”
- If you are a parent fight the urge to teach - strive to be co-adventurers.
- Walk instead of drive and take time to smell the roses.
- Nature can help foster empathy - talk about how amazing trees and animals are and ponder how they experience the world. Encourage children to imagine what it’s like to be a tree or a bird and get them to act it out. “Wonder deepens connection. With deeper connection comes empathy, and then caring. And, with time, caring leads to love”.
- Get out of the way! Let them play. He recommends being a hummingbird parent: letting children explore and problem solve while keeping your distance zooming in whenever safety is a concern.
- Increase learning and play outdoors and embrace the schoolyard as a learning environment. Teachers benefit from being outside too- teaching outdoors builds confidence and enthusiasm and fosters innovative teaching strategies.
- Use the outdoors as a stress reducing tool - being outside can ameliorate stress for both teachers and students and can increase engagement during the school day.
Ryan et al., (2010) found in a study that being outdoors was associated with greater vitality.
In a national study in the US, Kuo and Taylor (2004) found that green outdoor activities reduced symptoms significantly more than did activities conducted in other settings, even when activities were matched across settings.
According the attention restoration theory (ART), urban environments are draining because endless amounts of stimuli constantly demand our attention. These demands are draining, however they are absent in natural environments such as lakes, mountains and forests which demand very little from us. They engage us and are attention-grabbing yet they command our attention differently to man-made environments. They allow us the opportunity to think and replenish our overly bombarded resources.
The Japanese practice of forest bathing (taking in the forrest atmosphere) has been shown in studies to lower heart rate and blood pressure, reduce stress hormone production, boost the immune system, and improve overall feelings of well-being.
In one study by Ulrich (1984) hospital patients who had view of nature from their window, compared to patients who looked out at a building, recovered faster, took less pain medication and had shorter postoperative hospital stays.
In a study conducted by Thompson et al. (2012) it was found that more green space is linked to decreased stress. Those participants who lived near more green areas produced less cortisol, the stress hormone.
Awe is an emotional response evoked by nature and this feeling of awe can result in a diminishment of the individual self and its concerns, and increase prosocial behavior. One study found that naturalistic induction of awe in which participants stood in a grove of towering trees enhanced prosocial helping behavior and decreased entitlement compared to participants in a control condition.
In a Canadian study researchers Bell and Dyment (2006) found that green school grounds improve the quality of play by encouraging children to be active in ways that promote their physical, social and cognitive well-being. They promote more active, imaginative and constructive play and more civil behaviour.
Malone and Tranter (2003) found that children are more imaginative and cooperative whilst playing in natural playgrounds than in conventional playgrounds and bullying is decreased due to a reduction in boredom.
According to E.O Wilson's theory of Biophilia, human beings have a genetically determined and innate affinity to the natural world.
Keniger et al., (2013) in their review "What are the Benefits of Interacting with Nature?" highlight that mounting evidence shows that interacting with nature delivers measurable benefits to people.
According to a Nature Valley survey conducted with MARU/Vision Critical in 2017.