July 26th, 2012 by Planet Ark
While the vast majority who regularly care for children agree that contact with nature is good for children’s well-being and development, they don’t know that green time can significantly improve the academic performance of their children.
This is just one of the key findings of an independent study commissioned by Planet Ark and sponsored by Toyota, titled ‘Planting Trees – Just What the Doctor Ordered‘, which focuses on the benefits of interaction with nature for children’s health, well-being and development.
The report raises awareness of Australia’s National Tree Day on Sunday 29 July 2012 and builds on a 2011 study commissioned by Planet Ark that showed a dramatic and worrying shift in childhood activity from outdoor play to indoor activity.
A growing body of local and international research links childhood contact with nature to a range of health and well-being benefits, such as reduced stress levels, reduced depression, increased confidence and self-esteem, reduced risks of obesity and myopia, improved academic performance, a reduction in the symptoms of ADHD and a stronger sense of concern and care for the environment in later life.
Planet Ark’s Nature and Children’s Health Survey shows that despite strong evidence linking contact with nature to intellectual development and academic achievement, ‘green time’ is not a priority among Australian parents and carers as a means of supporting children academically.
In fact, only 7% of respondents chose it as one of the top three ways they can improve their child’s academic performance.
Australian parents rate a healthy diet and nutrition, strong family and social networks, and extra academic tutoring as the three interventions or influences they think are most effective in improving children’s academic achievement.
She urges parents to introduce a few simple and free nature-based activities into their child’s day-to-day routine to help give them a head start at learning.
“Just 30 minutes of green time daily can level the playing field for children who aren’t naturally good at book learning by having a positive impact on their higher order cognitive skills,” Dr Townsend said.
“Doing nature-based activities can boost self-esteem for children who struggle to learn the traditional way and natural settings can help restore children’s ability to concentrate and reduce stress by providing a soothing atmosphere.
”Further results from the survey showed that while the majority of carers know that contact with nature is important for children, they don’t know what the benefits are.
Only 33% of carers consider regular contact with nature to be one of the top three ways of reducing stress, just 24% recognise it as one of the top three ways to reduce the symptoms of depression and barely 13% consider contact with nature a top method of improving confidence and self-‐esteem.
A mere 16% of carers think contact with nature is one of the three most effective ways of reducing the symptoms of ADHD.
Over 86% of respondents agree that children are not spending enough time in nature, 75% believe that most children have never planted a tree, and 76% agree that most children could not identify common trees.
The last 20 years have seen dramatic shifts in lifestyle trends, such as the nature of houses and gardens, urban design, the working hours of parents, the use of childcare, time pressures on families, increased uptake of electronic entertainment and increased consumerism.
The well-documented shift from outdoor to indoor play over recent decades has seen a growing diversity of sedentary activities, such as television and electronic games.
Researchers say these activities ‘squeeze out’ time for more active pursuits.
The study showed that most people agree that nature-based events or activities such as Planet Ark’s National Tree Day are a good way for children to connect with and value nature.
“Getting children out into nature has always been great for their creativity and imagination, but now we know there are direct health benefits too,” says Planet Ark Spokesperson Rebecca Gilling.
“Planet Ark is encouraging families to do something for their health and the health of the environment by getting children involved in tree planting and nature-based activities.”