August 14, 2012

Four classes of benefits of nature for children

Image: Picking Juniper berries
I picked up a copy of Landscape Structures "Play Naturally" brochure at the Greater and Greener urban parks conference held in NYC July 14-17, 2012.  Two of the articles resonated with me: "Benefits of nature for children" by Louise Chawla and "Planning ideas for a more natural play environment" by Steve King.  The first is the subject of this post.  I will discuss King's article in tomorrow's post.

Louise Chawla is a professor at the University of Colorado at Denver. She is the co-editor or Children, Youth and Environments; member of Executive Committee of the Children, Youth and Environments Center for Research and Design; member of the Growing Up in Cities team for UNESCO; and member of the Built Environment Panel of the National Forum on Children and Nature.  Chawla reviewed eleven research studies, including one of her own, and found that exposure to nature provides benefits to children in the following four categories: concentration and school achievement; emotional coping and stress reduction; stewardship; and reduced symptoms of ADD and ADHD.

Looking at and playing in "more natural" settings improves concentration and school achievement, the latter measured by test scores, graduation rates, and intention to attend college (Wells, 2000; Grahn et al., 1997; Matsuoka, 2008).  Likewise, "more exposure to nature" enhances children's ability to cope with emotional stress (Korpela, 1992; Wells and Evans, 2003).  Direct experience of nature in childhood - versus "indoor study" of nature - is positively associated with environmental stewardship in adulthood (Chawla, 1999; Wells and Lekles, 2006; Lindemann-Mathies, 2006).  Finally, children diagnosed with attention deficit/hyperactivity disorders who participate in passive and active activities in "green outdoor settings" exhibit fewer symptoms of the attention disorders (Faber Taylor and Kuo, 2009; Faber Taylor et al., 2001; Kuo and Faber Taylor, 2004).

How did your childhood affect your environmental outlook?  And for readers with children, do you notice a difference in your child's play in "green outdoor settings" vs. urbanized playgrounds?

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