The Wildlife Trusts commissioned a study by the Institute of Education at UCL to evaluate the impact that experiencing nature has upon children. The study focused on over 450 primary school children and the effects of Wildlife Trust-led activities on their wellbeing. This is one of the largest studies into the effects of outdoor activities on children’s wellbeing and views about nature.
Overall, the research revealed that children’s wellbeing increased after they had spent time connecting with nature: the children showed an increase in their personal wellbeing and health over time; they showed an increase in nature connection and demonstrated high levels of enjoyment.
The children also gained educational benefits as well as wider personal and social benefits:
- 90% of children felt they learned something new about the natural world
- 79% felt that their experience could help their school work
- After their activities 84% of children felt that they were capable of doing new things when they tried
- 79% of children reported feeling more confident in themselves
- 81% agreed that they had better relationships with their teachers
- 79% reported better relationships with their class-mates
Nigel Doar, The Wildlife Trusts’ director of strategy says:
“This research shows that children experience profound and diverse benefits through regular contact with nature. Contact with the wild improves children’s wellbeing, motivation and confidence. The data also highlights how children’s experiences in and around the natural world led to better relationships with their teachers and class-mates.
“The Wildlife Trusts believe everyone should have the opportunity to experience the joy of wildlife in daily life and we’re calling on government to recognise the multiple benefits of nature for children – and ensure that at least one hour per school day is spent outdoors learning and playing in wild places.”
Dorinda Kealoha, Engagement Officer for Durham Wildlife Trust, said: “During 2019, approximately 2500 Primary School children living in Durham, Gateshead, Sunderland, Darlington and South Tyneside have spent time in nature, learning about wildlife with Durham Wildlife Trust. Whether they have been on a school trip to one of our nature reserves, visited us with their Cub Scout or Brownies group, participated in one of our wild events in the holidays, come to our Forest School or Home Education sessions, joined us during local community project activities, or been visited by us at their school as part of our Outreach work, every single child has made vital connections with their local wildlife and experienced the value of outdoor learning. We are working to expand our education and community engagement work, so that even more children can benefit from stepping outside the classroom and into the great outdoors.”
Lessons from nature
The UCL research team studied children participating in outdoor activities with their local Wildlife Trust, ranging from a single activity, to a series of activities over the course of several weeks. 451 children (mostly 8-9 years of age) in 12 areas across England took part by completing surveys before and after they participated in outdoor activities. Additionally, teachers, Wildlife Trust educators and 199 of the children were also observed by the UCL research team and interviewed about their experiences.
The outdoor activities involved children learning about nature, such as identifying plants and trees, reflecting on their important role in our lives and considering the needs of wildlife habitats.
The nature connection of the children was also measured. Nature connection refers to the level at which a person considers nature to be a part of their identity, reflecting their emotional closeness to the natural world. Nature connection essentially includes a love of nature and care and concern for the environment.
Professor Michael Reiss, Institute of Education, UCL, says:
“Each generation seems to have less contact with the outdoors than the preceding one. We owe it to all young people to reverse this trend – for their sakes, for our sakes and for nature’s sake.”