Our children are spending less and less time in nature, and this is alarming for many reasons. Studies have found that spending time in nature has multiple benefits for children’s cognitive development, self-esteem, and mood. In this Prepare for Life tip sheet, we’ll explore the importance of nature for children’s mental health.
Why is this important?
- Children, especially those who are raised in big cities, are spending less and less time in nature overall.
- The average American child spends over 7 hours a day looking at a screen, and only around 5 minutes a day playing outside.
- One study found that the more children had access to and spent time in green spaces, the higher their cognitive development. These children were also less likely to have serious behavioral or emotional difficulties.
- Kids who spend more time in nature also are more physically active. Physical activity is linked to its own mental health benefits.
- Research shows a positive link between time in nature and children’s attention spans and mood.
- Children from historically marginalized communities experienced even more pronounced benefits when they had access to green spaces.
- Playing outside increases kids’ confidence. It teaches them responsibility and stimulates their imagination.
How to support your child’s mental wellness through nature:
- Experts have differing opinions on how much nature is “enough” to improve kids’ mental wellness. But some say that spending time in any green area with trees is beneficial. Even if you don’t have a large natural area nearby, try to take your child to a local park or even a friend’s backyard on a regular basis.
- However, truly natural areas are best. Try to find places in your area like nature trails and community gardens.
- As you spend time outside, encourage your child to connect fully to the world around them. Being outside may not be helpful if your child is glued to their tablet screen. Invite them to pay attention to what they see, hear, and smell outdoors.
- Make it fun for your child to be outside. Nagging them to go outside, as if it’s a chore, isn’t likely to be successful. Rather than telling them to “play outside,” arrange for specific outside activities. For example, you could go out roller-skating or buy a trampoline.
- Choose to enroll your children in outdoor activities when possible. For example, instead of a dance class and an indoor swimming lesson, can you substitute one of those indoor activities for an outdoor one, like soccer?
- Arrange outdoor playdates for your children and their friends. Collaborate with other parents to get your kids outside together.
Fyfe-Johnson, A. L., Hazlehurst, M. F., Perrins, S. P., Bratman, G. N., Thomas, R., Garrett, K. A., Hafferty, K. R., Cullaz, T. M., Marcuse, E. K., & Tandon, P. S. (2021). Nature and children’s health: A systematic review. Pediatrics, 148(4), e2020049155. https://doi.org/10.1542/peds.2020-049155
Strife, S., & Downey, L. (2009). Childhood development and access to nature. Organization & Environment, 22(1), 99–122. https://doi.org/10.1177/1086026609333340
Tillmann, S., Tobin, D., Avison, W., & Gilliland, J. (2018). Mental health benefits of interactions with nature in children and teenagers: A systematic review. J Epidemiol Community Health, 72(10), 958–966. https://doi.org/10.1136/jech-2018-210436
Why kids need to spend time in nature. (n.d.). Child Mind Institute. Retrieved March 30, 2022, from https://childmind.org/article/why-kids-need-to-spend-time-in-nature/