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Nature & Well-being Resources

By Denise Mitten, PhD., Recreation, Leisure Services & Wellness, Ferris State University mittend@ferris.edu

There is a great deal of research about the impacts of the natural environment on human health and development and how this research supports the conceptual and theoretical basis of many practices of outdoor educators. The scope and depth of the research is addressed in the resources listed below.

Major Players in U.S. research
Rachel Kaplan, Attention Restoration Theory (Cognitive Benefits of Nature); School of Natural Resources & the Environment, University of Michigan; and Stephen Kaplan, Attention Restoration Theory; Dept of Psychology, University of Michigan

Roger Ulrich, Director, Center for Health Systems and Design, Texas A&M University http://archone.tamu.edu/chsd/

Frances Kuo, Director, Landscape and Human Health Laboratory, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign http://www.herl.uiuc.edu/          

Kathleen Wolf, Director Human Dimensions of Urban Forestry and Urban Greening, College of Forest Resources, University of Washington http://www.cfr.washington.edu/research.envmind/

Recent Publications
2008. Nature and Young Children:  Encouraging Creative Play and Learning in Natural Environments, by Ruth Wilson, London:  Routledge.

2008. Sobel, David. Children's Special Places: exploring the role of forts, dens, and bush houses in middle childhood.

2007. Ritz, William (editor). A Head Start On Science; Encouraging A Sense Of Wonder. NSTA Press.

2007. Nature First:  Outdoor Life the Friluftsliv Way edited by Bob Henderson, Toronto:  Natural Heritage.
 
2006. Children and their Environments: Learning, Using and Designing Spaces edited by Christopher Spencer & Mark Blades, University of Sheffield: Cambridge Press.

2005. (updated 2008) Last Child in the Woods, Richard Louv. Chapel Hill, NC:  Algonquin Books.

2004. Place-based Education: Connecting Classrooms and Communities, David Sobel. Great Barrington, MA: The Orion Society and Myrin Institute.

2003. Goodenough, Elizabeth. Secret Spaces of Childhood. University of Michigan Press.

2002. Children and Nature: Psychological, Sociocultural, and Evolutionary Investigations edited by Peter Kahn & Stephen Kellert, MIT Press.

1994. The Geography of Childhood Why Children Need Wild Places, Gary Naban & Stephen Trimble, Beacon Press

1994. Earth in mind: On education, environment, and human prospect, David Orr, Washington, D.C.:  Island Press

Children and Nature Network:  http://www.childrenandnature.org/
No Child Left Inside Coalition:  http://online.nwf.org/mi_ncli 


Being in nature benefits children, adults and society in many ways:


Physical Benefits
Better diet (kids who garden eat more vegetables)
Decreases the effects of jet lag
Immune system strengthening (kids who play outside have stronger immune systems; Wells 2002; Moore, 1981)
Improves clinical outcomes
Increases agility and coordination
Increases life expectancy
Sunlight
Vitamin D (lowers blood pressure, decreases risk of colon, prostrate, and pancreatic cancers)
Increases calcium uptake
Provides opportunities for exercise
Decreases BMI
Lowers systolic blood pressure
Reduces avoidable disease risk factors
Reduces cancer risk
Reduces osteoporosis risk
Reduces healing time (Ulrich, 2002)
Reduces pain
Reduces the impact of stress (Driver, Nash, & Haas 1987; Hartig, Korpela, Evans, & Garling, 1997Knoph, 1987; Frerichs, 2004; Stigsdotter 2003; Wells 2002)

Psychological & Cognitive Benefits
Children engage in more creative play in natural green areas (Taylor, et. al. 2001)
Decreases risk of seasonal affective disorder
Encourages nurturing characteristics
Restorative (Kaplan & Kaplan, 2989; Kaplan 1995; Kaplan, 2001; Bagot 2004; Berto, 2005; Han, 2003; Hartig, Korpela, Evans, & Garling, 1997; Hartig, Mang, & Evans, 1991; Herzog, Maguire, & Nebel, 2003; Korpela & Hartig, 1996; Laumann, Garling, & Stormark, 2001; Purcell, Peron, & Berto, 2001; Staats & Hartig, 2004; Hartig & Staats, 2006; Hartig, Evans, Jamner, Davis, & Garling, 2003; van den Berg, Hartig, & Staats, 2007)
Helps children deal with adversity (Wells 2000)
Improves body image (West- Smith, L., 1997)

Improves 6th grade boys cognitive functioning (McNaughten & Gabbard, 1993)
Improves children’s cognitive development through increasing their awareness, observation, and reasoning skills (Pyle 2002)
Improves mood states
Reduces depression (Yankou, D. 2002)
Reduces anger and anxiety
Enhances feelings of pleasure
Improves problem solving ability and concentration
Increases concentration in children exhibiting Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (Taylor, et. al. 2001)
Increases feelings of empowerment
Increases mental acuity (kids who grow plants scored 12% higher on academic tests)
Mitigates impact of dementia, Alzheimer’s
Reduces mental fatigue (Attention restoration) (Yankou, D. 2002; Cimprich, 1990)
 
Emotional & Spiritual Benefits
Encourages reflection
Increases a sense of wonder (Cobb 1977, Louv 1991, Crain 2001)
Inspires connections with the wider world
Gives children a sense of peace and oneness with the world (Crain 2001)
Quiets the mind
Sparks creativity and imagination (Taylor, et. al 2001; Cobb 1977, Louv 1991, Crain 2001)

Benefits to Society
Cost effective health promotion
Reduces crime (Kuo & Sullivan, 2001)
Decreases domestic violence
Encourages preferences for environmental quality over other goods
Helps new immigrants cope with transition
Increases environmental activism
Increases park planning
Preserves biodiversity
Stimulates social interactions among children (Moore, 1986, Bixler, et. al. 2002)
Strengthens family relations
Strengthens neighborhood ties


November 09


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Last Update: December 15, 2009

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