Why Our Children Need to Get Outside and Engage with Nature

By Guest Contributor Louise Pedersen

December 2016

Children spend less and less time in contact with the natural world and this is having a huge impact on their health and development.

Since the 1970s, there has been a vast accumulation of evidence to support the critical importance of nature for human health and well-being. Access to nature results in positive physical and mental health outcomes, enhanced attention and learning, and social and emotional well-being. Time in nature buffers the stress of fast-paced urban life and builds emotional resilience.

Sierra Club BC Environmental Educator Kirsten Dallimore exploring nature with Ecole Poirier students.

Evidence of the benefits of access to nature applies to people of all ages and at all stages of life. However, time in nature as a child is particularly important. It contributes positively to development of the whole child and lays the foundation for future health and emotional well-being as well as a lifelong connection to the natural world.

Early, sustained in-nature experiences are also predictive of future support of conservation and environmentally responsible choices. Thus childhood time in nature is critical both for human health and the health of the planet.

There is a well-developed body of knowledge of the many benefits of time spent in nature. The consequences of not having a nature-rich life is also well documented and reached the mainstream over a decade ago in Richard Louv’s book Last Child in the Woods: Saving our Children from Nature Deficit Disorder.

It is somewhat surprising then that this generation of children spends significantly less time in nature than their parents did. Canadian children are increasingly sedentary, spending an average of 6-7 hours per day engaged in screen-based, solitary activities (2011 Active Healthy Kids Canada Report Card) and less than one hour outside (David Suzuki Foundation). This troubling trend is affecting children’s connection to the natural world as well as their ability to learn, their social development and their health. This issue is multifaceted and complex: urbanization, the seductive lure of technology, and an increasingly risk-averse and litigious culture are all contributors.

NatureKids BC (formerly the Young Naturalists’ Club of BC Society) is a grassroots registered charity that helps children get outdoors to explore, play, learn about and take action for nature. Like Sierra Club BC, NatureKids is working to change the trend away from nature engagement, primarily through levers of access and opportunity.

We do this through an award-winning network of volunteer-led Family Nature Clubs that extends across BC. Together with our volunteer club leaders, nature mentors and donors, we share a vision of working together to help children develop a love of nature and a lifelong connection to the natural world while building environmental literacy and skills that will enable them to take action for nature.

Northern Saw-Whet Owl

Northern saw-whet owl

Thousands of children have participated in the NatureKids BC program since its inception in 2000. Program Alumni tell us their experiences with NatureKids BC helped embed in them a love of the natural world and a desire to protect it. NatureKids BC members have gone on to restore bogs, raise salmon fry, conduct humpback whale research, and share the wonder of the natural world with others.

Last year alone, we helped 1500+ children enjoy 4700 outdoor nature experiences across BC. And this is important because we now know that children need nature.

NatureKids BC publishes NatureWILD Magazine for kids. It’s the only magazine written about BC wildlife and ecosystems for elementary-aged youth. Each issue features fun and informative articles written by top BC naturalists and biologists, stories about children taking action for the environment, easy-to-read stories, and much more.

Through a School Membership, Teachers receive NatureWILD three times a year. Each issue comes with an accompanying Curriculum Guide linking it to the BC curriculum and helping teachers meet crosscurricular learning outcomes. NatureKids BC School Membership supports teachers in their efforts to incorporate place-based learning into the classroom and nature into the school community. It helps teachers address the big ideas and core curricular competencies for science, as well as other subjects such as math and language arts.

Learn more at NatureKids BC.