Different ways children can benefit from nature

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Mar 21, 2017
by Oscar Tollast
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Different ways children can benefit from nature

Fellows of The Child in the City: Health, Parks and Play consider why children should be exposed to more nature Participants take part in a warm-up exercise at The Child in the City: Health, Parks and Play [Photo: Ela Grieshaber]

Around 50 experts from different generations and sectors convened at Salzburg Global Seminar to set a new agenda to promote access to nature for children and communities in growing urban centers. Participants are meeting at Schloss Leopoldskron for the third Planet for the Parks Forum – The Child in the City: Health, Parks, and Play. They will aim to propose strategic recommendations to be shared at the 15th World Congress on Public Health to be held next month in Australia.

Huge numbers of people have moved to urban areas around the world. Enough decades have gone by that people are beginning to sense they are missing something. Experts are looking at the positive experiences of nature and how that helps physical health. Research undertaken suggests that the more access children have to nature, the better for their health and wellbeing.

Speaking to participants, Richard Louv, author, and co-founder of the Children & Nature Network claimed children who play in natural play spaces tend to be more creative. 

The tide is beginning to turn. Louv said, “There’s far more interest in thinking about cities as places that connect people to nature.” He referred to research that indicated children in the US who spent a third of their day outdoors performed better regarding academic improvement than pupils in other schools who did not. 

Louv said the barriers preventing children from going outdoors were “intense.” Electronics are a barrier, he claimed, but more attention needs to be paid to other obstacles, such as fear of strangers. With so much tech entering children’s lives, we need to balance that with nature. 

Louv suggested the ideal student is the student who has both skills learned from the natural world and the virtual world. Environments are at risk of narrowing children’s senses, making them feel less alive. Louv said, “We need to begin seeing this as a human right. Any less than that, it will not be taken seriously.”

However, as long as environmental education is only spoken about by environmental educators, children lose out. Louv said, “We need a bigger boat.” This conversation requires a bigger constituency. 

When wider audiences start talk about a nature-rich future, people can begin to envisage what that might look like. Louv said there needed to be a social movement for balance, bringing conservatives and liberals together. The work without that larger social force “will be impossible,” he warned.

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The Salzburg Global program The Child in the City: Health, Parks and Play is part of the multi-year Parks for the Planet Forum, a series held in partnership with the IUCN and Huffington Foundation. The session is being supported by Parks Canada and Korea National Park. It is being sponsored by the W.K. Kellogg Foundation. More information on the session can be found here: www.salzburgglobal.org/go/574 - You can follow all the discussions on Twitter by following the hashtag #SGSparks