Nature and Young Children (Guest blogger Elizabeth Sherwood)

ChildrenInNatureFor the past several years, I have taught a graduate class on Nature and the Young Child. It is designed to give teachers, informal educators, family members, and other interested adults interesting ways to help children spend time outdoors, learn about their immediate environment, and discover how interesting nature can be regardless of where they are. A sizeable body of research from a variety of disciplines indicates that time spent in nature supports the health and well-being of children. While I struggle with the term “nature-deficit disorder” coined by Richard Louv – it makes it sound like something is wrong with children instead of society – there is little doubt that the dramatic decrease in time children spend outdoors that has occurred over the last 50 years is having a negative impact on the lives of children.

As a result, we are adding content about the importance of children spending time in nature to a new course for undergraduates titled Inquiry, Investigation, and Play. I am sure many of you already include information on this topic in your classes. Below you will find some of the resources I’ve found to be useful. I hope you will share any others you have on the topic.

Here they are in no particular order:

The Natural Learning Initiative (North Carolina State University) – – provides reports of research funded by NSF and others on topics ranging from preventing obesity to activity levels of children; the “Green Desk” includes information for early childhood educators on designing outdoors spaces, gardening with young children, managing children outdoors, and more.

Children and Nature Network (founded by Richard Louv, author of Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children from Nature-Deficit Disorder and others) – – contains much of the most up-to-date research on the impact of children little time in nature, as well as strategies for change.

Did you know there have been a number of studies that indicate that lack of time in daylight may be the cause of the rise in myopia in children? Read here for an overview of the issue:

The Landscape and Human Health Laboratory, University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign – – study the connection between greenery and human health; studies show that contact with green space improves ADHD symptoms, depression, and more.

North American Association for Environmental Education has produced Guidelines for Excellence in Early Childhood Environmental Education. You can purchase a copy or download them from the link

Nature Explore – affiliated with the Arbor Day Foundation; provides workshops, resources, and materials for outdoor spaces; Dimensions Foundation – – partners with Nature Explore and conducts ongoing research on children and nature.


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