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Time in nature may improve early childhood development, study finds

Having access to green spaces can have significant benefits for kids

Child on swingset in park
Photo (c) Morsa Images - Getty Images
A new study conducted by researchers from the University of British Columbia explored some of the benefits associated with kids spending a lot of time outdoors. Their findings showed that when young kids regularly spend more time in nature, they’re more likely to reach important developmental milestones. 

“Most of the children were doing well in their development, in terms of language skills, cognitive capacity, socialization, and other outcomes,” said researcher Ingrid Jarvis. “But what’s interesting is that those children living in a residential location with more vegetation and richer natural environments showed better overall development than their peers with less greenspace.” 

Benefits of being outside

For the study, the researchers analyzed data from more than 27,000 children enrolled in kindergarten in Vancouver between 2005 and 2011. They used the children’s addresses to determine their access to green space versus other environmental influences. They then asked the children’s kindergarten teachers to complete the Early Development Instrument (EDI) survey to assess each participant’s development. 

The EDI survey focuses on five main components of development: physical health and well-being, social competence, emotional maturity, language and cognitive development, and communication skills and general knowledge. The researchers analyzed the children’s overall score as the basis for development while paying close attention to the language and cognitive development score. 

In both instances, living closer to green spaces was associated with stronger developmental outcomes. While none of the children performed poorly on the assessment, kids who spent more time in nature had a developmental advantage. 

The researchers believe that green spaces may have some protective benefits from exposure to noise or air pollution. Exposure to high levels of these pollutants has been associated with mental and physical health risks for children.

“Time in nature can benefit everyone, but if we want our children to have a good head start, it’s important to provide an enriching environment through nature contact,” said researcher Matilda van den Bosch. “Access to green space from a very young age can help ensure good social, emotional, and mental development among children.” 

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