Gardening 101

Nature and Children


Many of us grew up hearing our mothers recommend that we “get outside and get some fresh air.” This piece of advice has some recent research to back it up and it turns out that our mothers, as usual, were totally correct in their advice.

Children who participate in outdoor activities have better levels of concentration and a higher level of self-discipline, they demonstrate greater abilities to deal with life’s stresses, and they learn new information more rapidly than children denied access to the outdoors.

We all guess that time spent in nature is beneficial; it intuitively makes sense to us. Researchers across the globe are now measuring the specific positive results for children exposed to nature.

Among their findings

•    Children with symptoms of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) are better able to concentrate after contact with nature (Taylor 2001).

•    Children with views of and contact with nature score higher on tests of concentration and self-discipline. The greener, the better the scores (Wells 2000, Taylor 2002).

•    Children who play regularly in natural environments show more advanced motor fitness, including coordination, balance, and agility, and they are sick less often (Grahn et al. 1997, Fjortoft 2001).

•    When children play in natural environments, their play is more diverse, with an imaginative and creative play that fosters language and collaborative skills (Moore & Wong 1997, Taylor et al. 1998, Fjortoft 2000).

•    Exposure to natural environments improves children’s cognitive development by improving their awareness, reasoning, and observational skills (Pyle 2002).

•    Nature buffers the impact of life stress on children and helps them deal with adversity. The greater the amount of nature exposure, the greater the benefits (Wells 2003).

•    Natural environments stimulate social interaction between children (Moore 1986, Bixler, Floyd & Hammutt 2002).

•    Outdoor environments are important to children’s development of independence and autonomy (Bartlett 1996).

Nature has a positive impact on all of us, and including contact with nature in our daily lives has powerful benefits. The National Wildlife Federation recommends a Green Hour concept, a time for unstructured play and exploration in nature. Their website has ideas at

Don’t think of this as a trip to Yellowstone or some other exotic location. Nature is right outside your door. All of us have access to public gardens and city parks, many of which have activities and resources to help you find your way back to nature this year.

Jan Little is director of education and public programs for Sarah P. Duke Gardens at Duke University in Durham.

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