What Are the Benefits of Nature for Children? We Explore The Latest Research

Did you know that nature help your child learn, reduce stress and boost their immune system? We explore all the benefits that nature provides to our kids mental and physical well being, and the studies that back them up.

A primary concern for parents is the overall health and well-being of their children. In recent years, there has been an alarming increase in chronic physical and mental illness in children.

In addition to nutrition deficiencies, lack of physical activity is a causal factor toward adverse health issues, such as obesity, and developing conditions such as diabetes or heart disease later in life.

Parents will be glad to learn that there are numerous ways to be proactive. By encouraging outdoor play, they can help their kids take advantage of the many benefits of nature for children’s health.

As parents learn more about the benefits of playing outside, they can adapt their children’s lifestyles to incorporate more time in the fresh air and sunshine. This will reduce the risk of ill-health and provide ample opportunities for their children to reap the benefits of learning in nature. 

How Kids Playing Outdoors Helps Improve Mental and Physical Health

Children today are typically much more sedentary than their counterparts of long ago. Not only lack of physical movement but also deprivation of fresh air and sunshine has wreaked havoc on children’s health in recent decades.

group of school age children playing outside with hoola hoops

Studies show that kids playing outdoors on a regular basis, especially when coming in contact with soil and vegetation, obtain the benefits of learning through nature. The following list includes multiple benefits of playing outside: 

  • Reduces the indoor screen time that often leads to a sedentary lifestyle
  • Helps improve social skills
  • May help children sleep better
  • Strengthens immune system
  • Helps develop an appreciation of nature
  • Improves executive cognitive functions

 A study in Finland consisted of delivering soil and vegetation to preschool children in urban area daycare centers. Researchers noted positive changes in the children’s immune systems. These changes included less inflammation and an increase in healthy bacteria and other microbes. Both are necessary for adequate brain function, metabolism, and overall immune system health. 

How Learning Through Nature Boosts Children’s Attention Span And Reduces Stress

Observing and interacting in nature has many learning benefits for kids. Hundreds of studies have resulted in an abundance of evidence to show the benefits of nature for children’s health. Including how they perform academically in school. This is particularly true for kids who have been diagnosed with or exhibit symptoms of Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD) and Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). 

Distractions, mental fatigue, and even underlying physical health issues can present challenges regarding a child’s ability to focus or have an average attention span for their age group.

group of older children with computer and books studying outside

Studies show that the more time children have to attend classes outdoors or simply spend time in nature, the more mental clarity and focus they develop. This typically leads to better academic performance.

Consider the study findings in the following list that describe numerous health benefits that children gain from spending a lot of time in nature: 

  • Relieves stress
  • Helps build self-esteem
  • Improves mental focus and concentration
  • Sparks interest and curiosity
  • Improves physical fitness

Researchers say spending time on a regular basis in a rural setting helps reduce stress. Stress is a key factor in many children’s lives who encounter challenges in learning or academic performance.

In fact, studies show that children attending class in a “green space” as little as one day per week showed lower stress levels. when compared to an indoor-only control group.

Kids with ADHD and other attention deficit or processing disorders have trouble controlling their own impulses. Spending more time in nature may help them improve self-discipline skills and their ability to focus on a task, both of which are important skills when it comes to studying, taking tests, and other academic issues.

The Healing Properties of Spending Time in Nature

Modern society has become accustomed to using synthetic drugs and commercial medications to treat every ailment. From a common cold to viruses, bacterial infections, or mental health issues, we treat these problems with pills and potions. More and more parents are learning, however, that nature provides alternative means of healing that are beneficial to children.

family on a hike in nature with their child

As mentioned earlier, playing outdoors or attending school classes outside helps reduce cortisol levels in kids and may also improve their overall mood. The following list shows additional healing benefits of outdoor play and learning time: 

  • Increases vitamin D production from exposure to sunlight
  • Helps the body absorb calcium and potassium
  • Increases protection against numerous types of cancer
  • Helps regulate heart rate and blood pressure
  • Promotes psychological well-being
  • Provides natural remedy resources through various herbs and plants 
  • Builds stamina against allergies
  • Strengthens immune system

Too much screen time and a sedentary lifestyle set the stage for poor health throughout a child’s life. On the other hand, ecotherapy (proactive connection to and activity in natural spaces) not only lays the groundwork for healthier mental and physical health, it can help correct and heal existing adverse conditions

How to Pique Children’s Interests for Outdoor Play and Learning

children learning in nature - young child holds up a magnifying glass to view berry bush up close

To reap the benefits of learning in nature, parents must be able to entice their children to spend more time outside. To maximize ecotherapy benefits, children should spend at least two hours per day in unstructured playtime outdoors. Although less time is still better than no time at all.

Articles, such as “20 Ways for Kids to Get Involved in Nature,” provide creative ideas for parents. This is especially helpful for those whose children have developed bad habits with indoor screen time. For starters, children may enjoy trying some of these green space ideas: 

  • Collecting items found in nature
  • Planting and maintaining a vegetable, herb, or flower garden
  • Keeping a weekly journal and sketchbook for nature observation
  • Using electronic devices to photograph nature or create videos
  • Learning outdoor survival skills
  • Building things
  • Starting a micro-business (for teens) doing yard work for others, walking dogs, etc.

These activities are beneficial whether a child does them alone or with other children. Each activity is also a great way to spend time together as a family. A child might even decided to start a blog about the time that he or she spends in nature!

Older kids can earn a little money on the side by working for neighbors while they reap the healthful benefits of outdoor time. Gardening is known to be beneficial to mental and physical health for adults and children. Kids are usually thrilled to see (and taste) the foods they have grown themselves!

There’s No Time Like the Present to Start Ecotherapy

Spending time playing and learning outdoors is one of the best options available for parents whose ultimate goal is to help their children improve their mental and physical well-being.

And, who knows? Kids might start enjoying their outdoor time so much that they forget all about getting to the next level on a video game!