The importance of childhood connection to natural world

Children who feel a stronger connection to natural world are more likely to work towards protecting it, a new review has found

children playing in the natural world

A literature review by Dr Louise Chawla, Professor Emerita at the University of Colorado, has found that connecting with nature supports multiple areas of young people’s wellbeing. Children who feel a stronger connection to natural world are more likely to work towards protecting it, the review found.

“There is strong evidence that children are happier, healthier, function better, know more about the environment, and are more likely to take action to protect the natural world when they spend time in nature.” said Dr Chawla.

These findings support the idea that young people should have easy access to wild areas, parks, gardens, green neighborhoods, and naturalised grounds at schools.

Connection not necessarily positive

However, the review also found that a connection with nature is not necessarily always positive.

“My review shows that connecting with nature is a complex experience that can generate troubling emotions as well as happiness.” said Dr Chawla. “We need to keep in mind that children are inheriting an unravelling biosphere, and many of them know it. Research shows that when adolescents react with despair, they are unlikely to take action to address challenges.”

The good news is that there is overlap in the strategies used to increase children’s feelings of connection with nature and supporting them with difficult dimensions of this connection. These strategies include helping young people learn what they can do to protect the natural world, as individuals and working collectively with others, and sharing examples of people who care for nature.

Children need to be heard

Research covered in the review found that young people are more likely to believe a better world is possible when friends, family and teachers listen sympathetically to their fears and give them a safe space to share their emotions.

One of the most surprising findings from the review was the complete disconnect between researchers studying the benefits of childhood connection to nature and those studying responses to environmental threats. “People who study children’s connection with nature and those who study their coping with environmental risk and loss have been pursuing separate directions without referencing or engaging with each other.” said Dr Chawla. “I am arguing that researchers on both sides need to be paying attention to each other’s work and learning from each other”.

Read the full review

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