Children and Nature: Helping Kids Connect to Life Mysteries, by Marilyn Price-Mitchell PhD

Children and nature go together like peanut butter and jelly, don’t they? I was one of those kids who loved both!

I could be fascinated for hours watching armies of ants move bread crumbs from one ant hill to another. As I sat in our backyard cherry tree, I wondered why the birds liked to eat cherries before they were ripe. I was in awe of nature’s mysteries.

We know that contact with nature is a source of wonder and inspiration for children, and essential to their healthy development and sense of spirituality.  In fact, research studies show that nature increases youth creativity, reduces stress, and helps kids who suffer from attention-deficit disorder. A 2005 study by the American Institutes for Research found that kids who learn in outdoor classrooms improve their science scores by 27 percent. Not only is outdoor education critical for child development, it’s important for the future of the planet.

In his award-winning book, Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children from Nature-Deficit Disorder, Richard Louv delves into the topic of children and nature. He links the lack of nature in the lives of today’s wired generation to troubling childhood trends, including the rise of obesity and depression. Louv spurred a national dialogue about children and nature among parents, teachers, and health professionals referred to as the Leave No Child Inside movement.  In fact, educators and policy makers are so concerned with the lack of children’s connection to nature that the No Child Left Inside Act of 2009 was created to help fund training and provide resources for environmental education.

An excellent video demonstrates the many ways children and nature collide to positively affect development.  Children develop critical thinking skills as they learn to make inferences and draw conclusions. They learn by tasting, touching, and seeing wildlife and flora in ways they could not learn from a book. Bringing children and nature together helps teach respect for the planet and the ways we are inextricably connected.

View this video and be inspired! Parents, grandparents, educators – we all have a role in reconnecting children and nature — a connection that benefits our health and well-being.


Activities That Bring Children and Nature Together

Richard Louv, recipient of the 2008 Audubon Medal, provides a great list of activities for families in his online Resource Supplement to Last Child in the Woods. The Supplement also lists good books that facilitate the connection of children and nature as well as helpful links to sites where your child can learn in the great outdoors. It’s amazing how many activities are available in our own backyards! His suggested activities include the following:

  • Maintain a bird bath or a bird feeder.
  • Encourage kids to camp in the backyard.
  • Build a backyard weather station.
  • Make a “green hour” a new family tradition, giving children time for unstructured play in the natural world.
  • Invent a nature game on a hike in the country.
  • Build a tree house with your kids.
  • Plant a garden.
  • Raise butterflies.

Additional Resources

Children and Nature Network


American Institutes for Research (AIR) (2005). Effects of Outdoor Education Programs for Children in California. Palo Alto, CA.

Bell, A.C. and J.E. Dyment (2006). “Grounds for Action: Promoting Physical Activity through School Ground Greening in Canada.” Evergreen

Faber Taylor, A., Kuo, F.E., & Sullivan, W.C. (2001). Coping with ADD: The surprising connection to green play settings. Environment and Behavior, 33(1), 54-77.

Louv, R. (2008). Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children from Nature-Deficit Disorder, Algonquin Books.

Photo Credit: sedeer

Published: June 29, 2011

Tags: , , ,