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Effects of nature kindergarten attendance on children's functioning

Summary


Attending a nature kindergarten may enhance children’s locomotor and social skills

One response to the growing concern about children’s decreasing engagement with nature is the development of forest and nature school (FNS) approaches to education. Children attending FNSs spend large amounts of time in natural outdoor settings, where they are encouraged to play and explore and where they have rich opportunities to experience natural systems and materials.

This study examined the effects of a nature kindergarten (NK) on different aspects of children’s functioning. This nature kindergarten, located in British Columbia, Canada, is a part of the public school system; and in addition to meeting the requirements of the British Columbia curriculum, is based on the following pedagogical principles: connecting deeply with nature through play; emphasizing local ways of knowing and understanding; promoting physical and mental health; learning collaboratively as part of an empathetic community; and looking to the environment as a co-teacher.

Two groups of children participated in this study: 41 children attending the NK and 45 children attending a regular kindergarten (control group). Both groups participated in the same battery of assessments at the beginning and end of the school year. This battery of tests included assessments of working memory, directed attention, inhibition, physical competence beliefs, motor coordination, nature relatedness and environmentally responsible behavior. Parents and teachers completed the Social Skills Rating Scale at the fall and spring of the academic year. For assessments of physical activity levels, children wore motion sensors at three different time periods during the year (October, January, and May). The data analysis focused on changes in and a comparison of functioning in the assessment areas of the two groups of children.

Results showed no significant differences in the changes in activity level, attention, working memory, nature relatedness or environmentally responsible behavior between the two groups of children. There were differences, however, in children’s motor skills, with children in the NK group performing better than children in the control group. Results, based on parent and teacher data, also indicated that attending the NK had beneficial effects on children’s social skills and well-being.

Findings indicating no significant difference between the two groups in children’s cognitive functioning seems, on the surface, inconsistent with previous research. The location of the control school, however, may explain – at least in part – this inconsistency. The school district in which this study was conducted is in a rural setting, giving both groups of children access to a comparable amount of green space. It’s possible that, if there is already sufficient exposure to green space, spending extra time in a forest does not provide additional benefits for cognitive functioning.

This study indicates that attending a nature kindergarten may enhance children’s locomotor functioning and enhance their social skills.

Citation

Müller, U., Temple, V.A., Smith, B., Kerns, K., Ten Eycke, K., Crane, J., Sheehan, J., (2017). Effects of nature kindergarten attendance on children's functioning. Children, Youth and Environments, 27(2), 47-69.

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