Spending time in nature promotes early childhood development

December 5, 2021

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Spending time in nature promotes early childhood development

Want to ensure your child hits their expected developmental milestones? New research suggests living in areas with high exposure to greenspace can help set them up for success.

For the study, the researchers analyzed the developmental scores of 27,372 children in metro Vancouver who attended kindergarten between 2005 and 2011. They estimated the amount of greenspace around each child’s residence from birth to age five. They also assessed levels of traffic-related air pollution and community noise.

The results highlight the fundamental importance of natural green spaces like street trees, parks and community gardens, the authors say.

What the researchers say: “Most of the children were doing well in their development, in terms of language skills, cognitive capacity, socialization and other outcomes,” says study lead author. “But what’s interesting is that those children living in a residential location with more vegetation and richer natural environments showed better overall development than their peers with less greenspace.”

According to the researchers, the reason for this is partly greenspaces’ ability to reduce the harmful effects of air pollution and noise—environmental challenges that have been shown to adversely affect children’s health and development through increased stress, sleep disturbances and central nervous system damage.

“Few studies have investigated this pathway linking greenspace and developmental outcomes among children,” she added.

The researchers assessed early childhood development using the Early Development Instrument (EDI), a survey completed by kindergarten teachers for each child. The tool measures a child’s ability to meet age-appropriate developmental expectations.

“More research is needed, but our findings suggest that urban planning efforts to increase greenspace in residential neighborhoods and around schools are beneficial for early childhood development, with potential health benefits throughout life,” the researchers pointed out.

“Time in nature can benefit everyone, but if we want our children to have a good head start, it’s important to provide an enriching environment through nature contact. Access to greenspace from a very young age can help ensure good social, emotional and mental development among children.”

So, what? This study adds to the already voluminous amount of research showing how important contact with Nature is—not just for children but for everyone. In the book on Resilience that I am writing at the moment, a whole chapter is devoted to the importance of streets lined with trees, parks and wilderness areas.

The greatest benefit comes from people enjoying nature in the company of others—children playing with children in parks, seniors taking nature hikes with friends, employees sharing a common environment which includes trees, flowers, and park walks.

For more information on the natural environment click here. For the resilience effect of connecting with nature click here.

Dr Bob Murray

Bob Murray, MBA, PhD (Clinical Psychology), is an internationally recognised expert in strategy, leadership, influencing, human motivation and behavioural change.

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