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Home Building skills and improving mental wellbeing in children by adding nature into education. What does science say?

Building skills and improving mental wellbeing in children by adding nature into education. What does science say?


A review from Yale Center for Business and the Environment in 2020 checked the state of mental health of children and adolescents in the United States, and they made recommendations about incorporating nature-related activities in children’s lives for their mental health benefits. 

The report said that one in six children under 8 years old are undergoing an emotional, behavioral or developmental disorder. In the case of adolescents, there has been a steady increase in cases of anxiety, suicidal ideation, body image disorders and depression.

When the strains from children’s and adolescents’ well being are eased or removed, we can help them grow into healthy adults. 

Connection between greenscapes and mental health and wellbeing

We instinctively agree that contact with nature has a positive impact on our mental health. But growing scientific studies support the mental health benefits of nature in children and adolescents. For instance, research on  Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) shows that exposure to nature improves recovery from stress, and restores attention. The skills of stress regulation and sustained attention positively impact the daily lives of children with ADHD. 

The aftermath of Covid-19 related lockdowns and isolation resulted in a more sedentary lifestyle for young people. Excessive time spent inactive and indoors are linked to negative mental health effects. However, being in nature and spending time outdoors provide young people with opportunities to develop their physical, social and psychological skills that are needed for their healthy development. 

Ideas for incorporating more nature in children’s lives

1. Partner with organizations that offer outdoor experiences. 

You can check online how you can connect with groups that promote communing with nature through activities like: 

  • Forest bathing
  • Nature meditation 
  • Arts classes using materials in nature 

2. Maximize nature daily, and minimize technology. 

Especially for very young children, the negative impact of exposure to screens for long periods of time has been well-studied. Surveys show that on average, children below 5 years old spend around 4.5 hours of screen time per day. That is already nearly half of their waking hours! (3) 

What activities can children do to enhance their imagination, learn concern for the environment, appreciate the beauty of science first hand? Here are just some ideas: 

  • Have a birdbath or bird feeder at home/ in the garden. 
  • Have the children do camping in your backyard. 
  • Play games outdoors. 
  • Plant flowers together. Do backyard gardening. 
  • Establish a family culture around nature. For example, an hour playing outdoors, at a park. 
  • Build a DIY weather station. 

3. Relieve stress and appreciate the beauty of nature. 

Several studies have shown that the stress-relieving effects of nature in adults are also experienced by children. Both self-reported stress levels and biological measures of stress decrease stress in kids. For example, researchers found that when there is a view of vegetation or greenery outside the windows, heart rate and the level of the stress hormone cortisol decrease.

Science is clear on the benefits of nature-related activities. They can help prevent and manage the symptoms of mental health issues. They are also proven to promote mental wellbeing. It takes partnerships between parents, schools, organizations and the community to improve children’s access to experiences in nature.

If you are a licensed mental health professional, check out a variety of healthcare careers available and start creating a positive change in the healthcare industry. 

Building skills and improving mental wellbeing in children by adding nature into education. What does science say?
Brandon Resasco