By Tegwen Gadais, University of Quebec in Montreal (UQAM) and Audrey-Anne Beauchamp, University of Quebec in Montreal (UQAM)
The outdoors is currently experiencing a strong development in Quebec, to the delight of all nature lovers. There are a number of known benefits associated with physical activity in nature and outdoor play. However, among children and adolescents, studies show that time spent outdoors has significantly decreased and that they are less and less physically active over the years.
Therefore, it is important to better understand the beneficial impacts that nature can have on the development of our young people in order to promote its practice. We carried out a literature review in order to identify the benefits that the natural environment can bring to young people, inter alia, on a physical, psychological, social and cognitive level.
Nature makes strong children
According to a Norwegian study, exposure to a natural environment can greatly improve the general motor skills of children and adolescents, such as balance, locomotion, agility or even muscle endurance. These gains will last into adulthood as well.
Furthermore, just being in nature would allow children to learn to better manage risks, allowing them to develop more aspects of their gross motor skills.
Currently, despite these encouraging research findings, a study conducted in Amsterdam has shown that the time spent outdoors by children and adolescents has significantly decreased.
However, the picture is more encouraging in many other countries. In fact, Canadian researchers confirm that for every hour spent outdoors, young people were active seven minutes longer on an average of 12 countries.
Despite everything, the increase in parents’ concerns for the safety of their children and the widespread use of technological tools would be the main causes of this reduction in the time spent playing outdoors. New technologies are ubiquitous in homes, too often they confine young people within four walls.
Natural environments promote mental balance
Research shows that participation in an outdoor program among young people would help increase autonomy, self-esteem, self-confidence and a sense of responsibility.
Equally interesting, an Australian study showed that exposure to a natural environment would promote empathy, responsibility, trust, independence and the ability to feel competent in physical activity in children.
As a result, the stress and anxiety experienced on a daily basis would be significantly reduced. Likewise, we must consider nature itself as an effective and valuable remedy for many ailments. Also in Japan, doctors prescribe forest baths or Shinrin Yoku for their patients.
Be more sociable by nature
The literature reveals that children who have the opportunity to do outdoor activities have more social behaviors and more developed social skills than those who only engage in indoor activities.
It is also important to remember that children who play outdoors more often establish more contacts with others and develop more cross-cultural friendships. This aspect of socialization allows for an open mind, an invaluable quality in our current society.
Furthermore, green spaces impact the social health of young people by improving their conflict resolution and cooperation skills. Note that the benefits that nature offers to young people also extend to the school environment. In fact, students exposed to nature work better in groups and are more disciplined in the classroom, according to a study by Stephen Moss.
Better grades in school
Overall, the study shows that exposure to a natural environment leads to better academic achievement, not only in reading and writing, but also in math and science.
In addition to promoting learning, this study also reveals that mother nature leads young people to be more productive and efficient at work, to have better self-discipline, a better understanding of the material, and improve their reasoning and observation skills.
The natural environment also plays a beneficial role in school performance, as exposure to a green environment would have a positive effect on various problems such as lack of motivation and focus.
Students with special needs would also benefit. For example, those with attention deficit disorder (ADD) see their symptoms diminish. Our young people therefore have all the advantages of going out.
In any case, the positive and not insignificant contribution that nature makes to the development of children and adolescents is important, indeed essential. Let’s not forget that simply playing outdoors can have long-term repercussions, right into adulthood.
Mother Nature should be used and exploited more for therapeutic purposes to alleviate the health and educational problems and problems present among our young people.
Unfortunately, even today the educational system, parents and schools do not use this natural means enough to foster the development of our children, despite all the benefits that have been demonstrated.
It is not utopian to hope that one day nature will fully play its role in the development of the future generation. What are we waiting for to send our kids out to play?
Par Tegwen Gadais, Professor, University of Quebec in Montreal (UQAM) and Audrey-Anne Beauchamp, University of Quebec in Montreal (UQAM)
This text was first published in The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. (Re) read the original article.