Health Professionals Prescribe Nature Play for Children's Health

About the Author

Susan Sachs Lipman (Suz) has more than 25 years experience as a writer, editor, social media manager, community builder, and advocate for getting children into nature. She is the author of Fed Up with Frenzy: Slow Parenting in a Fast-Moving World, which was named a TIME magazine Top 10 Trend of 2012. She has written for the New York Times Motherlode blog, the Christian Science Monitor’s Modern Parenthood blog and others. Suz serves as the Director of Social Media Promotion and Partnerships for the Children & Nature Network.

The idea that a prescription is necessary to get some children to go out and play is unfortunate on one level. But, taken another way, it serves as an indicator of the growing awareness among health professionals of the important role that nature contact plays in the health of children.

American Academy of Pediatrics members will hear about the role of nature in children’s health on October 2, when Richard Louv will give the keynote speech at their annual conference in San Francisco. The AAP has recognized that:

Helping children connect with nature to improve their mental and physical health is a growing movement.

Louv, who will address Nature-Deficit Disorder, said, “I’m careful not to represent nature-deficit disorder as a known medical diagnosis. But the phrase has proven to be useful shorthand for what many of us felt was going on, but had no words for, which is the generational disconnection with nature.

This has implications for our children’s mental and physical health, their ability to learn and our future relationship with the natural world—in terms of our willingness to care for it.

“Pediatricians are especially important,” Louv continued. “I do hope pediatricians as individuals will use their best judgment when suggesting to families that they go outside and spend time in nature, for health and happiness.”

This event highlights the growing awareness of nature’s health benefits among health care providers and policy makers. It also coincides with new regional and national initiatives aimed at engaging this key sector of the Children & Nature movement.

On the heels of the signing of the Ohio Children’s Outdoor Bill of Rights by Ohio Governor Ted Strickland, The Ohio Leave No Child Inside Coalition recently recognized Dr. Wendy Anderson-Willis, a pediatrician at Nationwide Children’s Hospital, for her efforts that include prescribing a daily hour of outdoor play to many of her patients. According to Anderson-Willis:

I think it’s the right of every child to play outside and it’s the job of the adults to create a world where this is possible.

In Michigan, the No Child Left Inside Coalition teamed with doctors to create a prescription pad that calls for spending time outside each day, as well as other useful resources.

The National Environmental Education Foundation recently announced its Children and Nature Initiative, which is holding a series of workshops to prepare pediatric health care providers to serve as nature champions in their communities. Each new champion will train 30 peers to prescribe outdoor activities for health. The program is expected to educate approximately 1,200 health care providers within two years. The program, which counts U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, the Audubon Society, and others as partners, will also connect health care providers with local nature sites, so that they can refer families to safe and easily accessible outdoor areas.

Baltimore pediatrician Dr. Maria Brown is one of the health care professionals participating in the program by prescribing outdoor activities for health. San Francisco physician Dr. Daphne Miller explains why she advocates prescribing nature for health.

The NEEF Initiative is grounded in science, much of which can be found in the Children & Nature Network‘s synthesis of selected research and studies on Health Benefits to Children From Contact with the Outdoors and Nature.


  1. I coach my patients this way and I know how hard it is to pull my own kids away from various electronics. There’s no substitute for moving your body outside…young or old, it’s the way it’s supposed to be. Thanks for posting this.

  2. Thanks for the article. As children, we loved to go outside to play, even in the cold months. Of course, we didn’t have all of the electronic gadgets that are available today.

    I encourage parents/guardians to send their children out to play in a supervised/safe area. Spend some time with them walking or playing, enjoying nature.

  3. Suz Lipman

    Thank you both for your comments. You both hit on some of the competition nature play gets from available electronic entertainment and the importance of playing outside. Indeed much of the behavior shift has to come from whole families. There is a lot of discussion on our C&NN discussion forum about challenges regarding perceptions of safety and also providing nature activity in cold climates. Thanks again, both of you, for highlighting some of these points.

  4. Thank you for this article. As a nature-oriented child and adolescent counselor, I cannot stress enough how incorporating nature and animals into therapy has helped the children I serve. Nature-oriented therapy has brought healing, relaxation, focus, and just plain joy to them. I look forward to being a part of this movement.


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