Children and Nature

By Kristina Hulvershorn

As I’ve led children into the woods for a hike, I’ve heard some amazing things. Some beautiful and inspiring and some that break my heart. I was a kid who was gifted with loads of exposure to the natural world, whether digging in the dirt, planting seeds, or hiking in forests. As I look back, I realize what important and lasting gifts those were. Now that I’m grown and able to offer kids exposure to a beautiful forest regularly, I am often faced with the reality that many of the kids I meet think that nature is scary, gross, smelly, or simply a place they’d rather not go.

When kids resist nature, I double down on offering a new perspective. I work really hard to connect to children who have never been inside a forest, who are told they shouldn’t even play near the dirt or the grass, or who are taught to fear nature. I’m not interested in blaming individuals or families for their fear or lack of connection with nature. Instead, I’d rather seize any opportunity for children to fall in love with nature and, better yet, see that they are nature…that all creatures are linked in complex ways with each other and that this network is what makes up the natural world. Getting kids out in nature might seem like a luxury or a novelty, but it could be some of the most important work we do with this generation.

I’m not the only one beating the “get kids outside” drum, by any means!

According to researchers, here are some of the most compelling reasons for children to connect with nature.

1) Children who connect with nature are more likely to want to conserve the environment.

https://doi.org/10.1007/s40362-014-0021-3

2) Exposure to nature promotes positive social and emotional outcomes, specifically helping children deal with stress in healthier ways.

http://www.centreforconfidence.co.uk/flourishing-lives-young-people.php?pid=548

3) Spending time in nature can improve “academic performance, focus, behavior, and love of learning”.

https://www.childrenandnature.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/07/CNN_AcademicOutcomes_16-10-27_O_newlogo.pdf

…and that is just the beginning.  Authors, researchers, and scientists are working hard to teach us to re-immerse ourselves in nature. Any time there is an opportunity to extend the gift of a love and passion for the natural world, seize it. Children will reap the benefits immediately and hopefully, for their entire lives. Our Earth needs more people to acknowledge our connection and to behave accordingly. For tips on where to start, check out these great resources: https://www.childrenandnature.org/learn/tools-resources/

For more research on reasons to connect children with nature (all in one handy place by the awesome Children and Nature Network), go to
https://www.childrenandnature.org/research-library/

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