Research affirms the importance of time spent in the natural environment
Last Child in the Woods, by Richard Louv 2005, updated in 2008, was the first book to bring together a new and growing body of research indicating that direct exposure to nature is essential for healthy childhood development and for the physical and emotional health of children and adults.
A young child’s exposure to nature can be both guided and that of unstructured outdoor play or free-play. However, being child-directed is key whether it is time for free-play or time for inquiry-based activities in the outdoors.
The benefits of outdoor play are well documented. Visit the Children and Nature Network Research Center for reports and studies revealing evidence and documentation of the many benefits of connecting children and nature.
Louise Chawla, professor of planning and urban design at University of Colorado, discusses in the June 2012 issue of Early Childhood Matters the importance of children having access to nature.
The National Wildlife Federation in their Connect Kids & Nature campaign discuss the health benefits of connecting children with nature. The bottom of this page lists several research papers and books to support this effort.
Those of us in the environmental education field already understood the benefits of repeated exposure to the natural environment to school children plus classroom educators and volunteers.
After reading articles from Ruth A. Wilson, PhD, in publications from the North American Association for Environmental Education (Environmental Education at the Early Childhood Level, 1994) and the National Association for Interpretation (Legacy January/February 1996) helped us realize how important and essential it was to provide child-centered experiences in the natural environment. Early childhood education and environmental education are both built on the premise of how children best learn – by directly interacting (doing) with their environment rather than being a passive (watching and listening) learner. Dr. Wilson notes, “Teachers in a child-centered program focus on the child’s interests and capitalize on the “teachable moments” that occur frequently throughout the day.”
The benefits to the environment of early contact with natural settings are noted by Wells and Lekies (2006), who found the most direct route to caring for the environment as an adult is participating in “wild nature activities” before the age of 11. Children need to get outside and KinderNature gives early childhood and informal educators, parents, and preschools the ideas to get children outside and to bring the natural world inside.
Links on various topics to help inspire: