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Benefits of nature contact for children

Summary


Research findings make a compelling case for incorporating into community plans provisions for access to nature in the places where children live, play, and learn

This comprehensive literature review was conducted on research published from the 1970s to 2015 focusing on ways contact with nature contributes to the health and well-being of children. One distinguishing feature of this review is the way it presents related research in the context of changing research approaches. It does this, in part, by addressing the question of how different research questions and methods shape our understanding of the benefits of children’s access to nature. Another distinguishing feature of this review is the way in which it applies the capabilities approach to human development, thus providing a broad definition of health and well-being. In addition to examining the multiple benefits of children’s access to nature, this review also addresses implications for planning, including the need for access to greenspace around homes, schools, and childcare centers. Benefits of nature contact for children identified through this review include positive outcomes in the following areas: physical health, cognitive functioning and self-control, psychological well-being, affiliation and imaginative play, and affiliation with other species and the natural world – all related to children’s realization of their capabilities.
As noted in this review, the 1970’s was identified as a decade of enthusiastic beginnings for the study of children and nature. Research during this time was characterized by place-based fieldwork with children and a focus on efforts to better understand children’s experience of place. These investigations led to a deeper appreciation of the importance of natural areas for children and recommendations for involving children in decision making about urban planning and design. Later research (in the 1990s) shifted to naturalistic experiments and correlational designs. Ethnographic methods were also used. Research during this time also focused on ways in which children’s access to nature was diminishing. By 2015 hundreds of experimental, quasi-experimental and correlational studies have documented the benefits of children’s access to nature.
This research makes a compelling case for deliberately incorporating into community plans provisions for access to nature in the places where children live, play, and learn.

Citation

Chawla, L., (2015). Benefits of nature contact for children. Journal of Planning Literature, 30(4), 433-452.

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