Nature & Mental Health

For more than 24 years, at White Pine we’ve seen the impact that being in nature has on our program participants. Often, children who struggle with traditional school settings thrive when  they’re outdoors. Anecdotally, we hear often from parents (especially of young teens), how the time away from their phones and the pressures of social media has helped “return” their child to a less anxious and heightened state.

During the height of the COVID pandemic, the positive impact of time outdoors became even more apparent to families whose children couldn’t be in most social settings or in school. Time at White Pine became a haven of normalcy – where kids could be kids and not constantly feeling the threat of being exposed. Parents were able to relax knowing their children were getting the socialization they needed in as safe an environment as existed.

For many years, nature school and program practitioners around the globe have known and witnessed this effect and now scientific research validates our experiences. The Children and Nature Network collects and shares immense amounts of research. Here are a few highlights.

Social-Emotional Benefits of Nature

Learning in nature supports improved relationship skills and reduced stress, anger and aggression (source).

Nature-based learning is associated with fewer disciplinary problems in school. Students gain increased impulse control and have fewer disruptive behaviors. (source)

Impacting Adverse Childhood Experiences

“Time in nature can be a powerful antidote to the negative impacts of trauma and stress in children’s lives. When family service providers incorporate nature into their therapeutic work, children and families experience a wide range of benefits, including improved mental and physical health, stronger relationships, better communication, reduced stress, and healing from trauma.” (source)

Five key outcomes were found in this study:

1. “Connection to nature supports mental health, wellbeing, resilience, restoration, enhanced mood and can reduce stress, contributing to healing for families and youth coping with adversity and trauma.

2. Experiences in nature help children become more mindful, manage behaviors and reactions, cope with new environments, control impulses and focus attention, contributing to better self-regulation.

3. Nature enhances family connections, communication and parental mental health, contributing to safety in the home. Quality outdoor spaces enhance community togetherness and reduce crime, contributing to safety in the community.

5.  Family activities in nature improve communication and develop lasting family connections and relationships that can help keep children safe in their homes.

6.  Time in nature nurtures a sense of self identity, belonging with others and connection to place, contributing to a sense of stability and permanency.”

Other Supporting Research:

How Nature Resets Our Minds and Bodies, The Atlantic, March 29, 2013 (source)

“Natural environments promote calmness and well-being in part because they expose people to low levels of stress. These stressful experiences are tame in comparison with the trials and tribulations that most of us associate with stress — workplace drama, traffic jams, and wailing children on international plane trips.”

Nature-Based Play and Learning: A Literature Review, an article published by PEER Associates, Inc.
Primary authors: Amy Powers and Qing Ren (source)

“Activities offered in natural settings provided greater mental and emotional health benefits by promoting concentration and relieving stress.

Children and adolescents with proximity to green space had fewer emotional and mental health problems, fewer aggressive behaviors, and higher emotional resilience.” 

“…Fndings related to children’s mental and physical health make a compelling case that nature immersion can be a vital part of the antidote to the increasingly sedentary yet stressful world in which many 21st century children dwell.”

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