Children's Mental Health and Wellbeing and Hands-on Contact with Nature: Perceptions of Principals and Teachers
Recent work on the health and wellbeing benefits of contact with animals and plants indicates the natural environment may have significant psychological and physiological effects on health and wellbeing of children (Wells, 2000; Taylor et al, 1998). These studies demonstrate that children function better cognitively and emotionally in green environments and have more creative play in green areas. In contrast, the literature indicates increasing concern about the lack of time humans, particularly children, spend in outdoor environments (Kellert, 2002; Orr, 2002; Pyle; 2002), the limited opportunities to encounter and interact with the natural world (Orr; 2002; Frumkin, 2001), and the fact that modern society insulates people from outdoor environmental stimuli (Stilgoe, 2001; Simpson, 1994). For children, concerns focus on the detrimental effects on cognitive and emotional development (Kellert, 2002), the paucity of opportunities to develop an ethic of care for the environment and empathy for other living creatures/fellow humans (Kahn, 2002), a lack of understanding about the interconnectedness of all life forms, as well as other valuable lessons to be learned from nature (Orr, 2002; Capra, 1997). In Australia, many schools are incorporating nature-based activities into their curricula. Although most programs appear successful, few have been evaluated, particularly in terms of the health-promoting role played by the nature-related elements. This paper reports on a pilot survey investigating the mental health benefits of contact with nature for primary school children. This is part of a larger study investigating the potential benefits from hands-on contact with nature via environmental education and/or nature-based programs in urban primary schools in Melbourne, Australia.
Keywords: Nature, Mental Health, Children, Hands-on Contact
Dr Cecily Maller
PhD Candidate, School of Health and Social Development, Deakin University