If you’re reading this blog, I probably don’t have to convince you that greenspaces are good things, or that children benefit from time spent in nature. You also probably don’t need a reason to head outside other than “time spent in nature makes us feel good.” But, in this growing field of study, researchers are constantly adding to the list of benefits, some of which may surprise you.
Here are ten compelling (and evidence-based) reasons why children need greenspaces:
- Childhood obesity is on the rise, as is the amount of time children spend in front of screens. Time spent outdoors mitigates this trend. Access to parks, greenspaces, and green elements (such as street trees) statistically increases the chance that children will engage in physical activity (Frank, Andresen and Schmid 2004; Larsen et al. 2009).
- Time in nature has been demonstrated to counteract the effects of Attention Deficit Disorder (Faber Taylor, Kuo and Sullivan 2001).
- Exposure to nature can help to mitigate the effects of stress, and improve levels of cognitive functioning (Wells and Evans 2003).
- Some very recent research suggests that a soil bacteria present in natural green spaces (Mycobacterium vaccae), when inhaled, reduces anxiety and promotes learning (American Society for Microbiology 2010).
- Wooded areas provide shade and reduce urban heat island effects, thus reducing problems related to UV exposure (such as skin cancer) and other heat-related illnesses (McKeown 2007).
- Natural areas provide diverse opportunities for play and physical challenges that are not present in other locations (Fjortoft and Sageie 2000).
- Children who are given the opportunity to explore natural areas demonstrate improved spatial abilities (Matthews 1992).
- The long-term sustainability of our natural areas relies on children developing values and preferences for these spaces. Early place attachments will have an important bearing on long term public opinion and land use decisions (Ryan 2005).
- When children form a connection with the living world, they better understand their role in the world, and develop an environmentally-focused set of morals (Littledyke 2004).
- Time spent in green spaces promotes positive social behaviour and strengthens peer relationships (Meyer 2005).
These are only a few of the countless benefits of time spent in nature, and are all supported by research. The pile of evidence is already undeniable, and is still growing. So, please add these reasons to your arsenal, if you need another excuse to head out for a hike.
American Society for Microbiology (June 11, 2010). “Can Bacteria Make You Smarter?” Available at http://www.physorg.com/news193928997.html.
Faber Taylor, A., F. E. Kuo and W. C. Sullivan (2001). “Coping with Add: The Surprising Connection to Green Play Settings.” Environment and Behavior 33(1): 54-77.
Fjortoft, I. and J. Sageie (2000). “The Natural Environment as a Playground for Children: Landscape Description and Analyses of a Natural Playscape.” Landscape and Urban Planning 48(1): 83-97.
Frank, L. D., M. A. Andresen and T. L. Schmid (2004). “Obesity Relationships with Community Design, Physical Activity, and Time Spent in Cars.” American Journal of Preventative Medicine 27(2): 87-96.
Larsen, K., J. Gilliland, P. Hess, P. Tucker, J. Irwin and M. He (2009). “The Influence of the Physical Environment and Sociodemographic Characteristics on Children’s Mode of Travel to and from School.” American Journal of Public Health 99(3): 520-526.
Littledyke, M. (2004). “Primary Children’s Views on Science and Environmental Issues: Examples of Environmental Cognitive and Moral Development.” Environmental Education Research 10(2): 217-235.
Matthews, M. H. (1992). “Making Sense of Place.” Savage, MD: Barnes & Noble Books.
McKeown, D. (2007). “Shade Policy for the City of Toronto.” Toronto, ON.
Meyer, R. L. (2005). “The Effect of Green Space on Urban Children’s Sense of Community.” Minnesota Association for Environmental Education Twelfth Annual Conference Proceedings, Minnesota.
Ryan, R. L. (2005). “Exploring the Effects of Environmental Experience on Attachment to Urban Natural Areas.” Environment and Behavior 37(1): 3-42.
Wells, N. M. and G. W. Evans (2003). “Nearby Nature: A Buffer of Life Stress among Rural Children.” Environment and Behavior 35(3): 311-330.