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Bringing nature to schools to promote children’s physical activity

Summary


Physical activity in schools will be enhanced when children have more opportunities for engaging with nature-related features

In this research summary authors argue that the presence of nature in school environments invites children to become more physically active. In addition to referencing other studies in developing their argument, the authors also provide evidence from their own research project to support their position.

Two strands of research provide a framework for this review. The first strand focuses on the physical and mental health benefits of children connecting with nature. The second strand demonstrates that children prefer the presence and use of nature-related elements in their schools and that such elements promote physical activity (PA). Based on the research presented in these two strands, the authors conclude that schools need to be redesigned to incorporate natural features to promote children’s PA.

This research summary first presents evidence linking PA in nature to improvements in children’s health. Next, evidence is provided in support of schools as an important and safe option for children’s nature-related PA. The authors go on to provide evidence from research and media documentation to show that schools can be re-designed in a manner that recognizes children prefer the natural world for active behaviors. A final presentation of evidence is drawn from the authors’ own research project supporting their position that PA in schools will be enhanced when children can engage better with nature-related features.

In the authors’ research project, 133 students (age 10 and 11) from nine primary schools in Queensland, Australia drew pictures of the elements they preferred in their ideal school. Through these pictures with written annotation, children expressed their views about how schools should be re-designed. Main themes appearing in the children’s pictures included natural features, food production elements, calming features, sports grounds, outdoor classes, outdoor activities, and animal-related features.

Themes in the students’ drawings indicated that they preferred green features, space for physical activity, and calming elements in their school environment. Over 80% of the students preferred one or more features that reflected a desire to be physically active outdoors as well as indoors. They also wanted opportunities to interact directly with such natural features as a creek, trees, water, and animals. Some students connected natural features with calmness, peace, care, compassion, better concentration, and a deeper engagement with learning.

The authors conclude their research summary with a statement about the need to re-design schools in a way that responds to the positive role of nature on human health. “If schools were re-designed to incorporate diverse natural features,” they say, “children’s PA and consequent health and wellbeing would likely improve markedly.”

Citation

Sharma-Brymer, V., Bland, D., (2016). Bringing nature to schools to promote children’s physical activity. Sports Medicine, 46, 955-962.

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