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Spending time in nature is great for making memories, but did you know that it is also good for a child’s development? Below you can find summaries of the research that relates to the benefits nature has on a child's development. We also wanted to capture some of the innovations occurring in Texas that increase access to nature or help to achieve the goals of TCiN.

Kids Who Learn and Play in Nature are...


Are Physically and Mentally Healthier

Research shows what many parents have long known, that children who learn and play in nature are healthier both mentally and physically. Active, unstructured play outdoors helps build a child’s physical strength and also helps children build social and emotional skills such as problem solving and self-esteem.

Children today are spending seven to 11 hours per day sitting with media and only minutes per day playing outdoors. With that sedentary lifestyle we’ve found a rise in childhood obesity, depression, near-sightedness and ADHD. The good news is this is a situation that everyone can improve by taking the kids in their life outside. Families who make a plan to be active in nature are helping their children build skills that will contribute to a healthier life.

Unstructured Free Play Brings Cognitive, Social and Health Benefits

Unstructured free play in the out-of-doors brings a host of benefits to children-from being smarter to more cooperative to healthier overall. This well-documented article by two physicians builds a strong case for the...


Do Better in School

Many of the studies that have looked at the connection between time spent in nature and performance in school. However, one of the most important functions nature plays in a child's development happens before a child enters into formal education. Executive functions such as following directions, working cooperatively and working through problems are all improved when a child spends time outdoors.

Nature-Smart Kids Get Higher Test Scores

The American Institutes for Research® conducted a study, submitted to the California Department of Education, of the impact of week long residential outdoor education programs. The focus was on at-risk youth, 56% of whom reported never having spent time in a natural setting. Comparing the impact on students who experienced the outdoor education program versus those in a control group who had not had the outdoor learning experience, results were statistically significant. Major findings were: 27% increase in measured mastery of science concepts; enhanced cooperation and conflict resolution skills; gains in...

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Have Higher Self-esteem

Children who have experiences in the outdoors can have higher self-esteem as they learn to work through problems, test assumptions, and challenge themselves in an outdoor setting.

Outdoor Experience for Teens Has Self-Reported Life-Changing Results

A classic 1998 study by Dr. Stephen R. Kellert of Yale University, with assistance from Victoria Derr, remains the most comprehensive research to date to examine the effects on teenage youth of participation in outdoor education, specifically wilderness-based programs. Subjects were participants in programs offered through three old and well-respected organizations: the Student Conservation Association (SCA), the National Outdoor Leadership School (NOLS), and Outward Bound. The researchers used quantitative and qualitative research techniques, and parallel use of both retrospective and longitudinal study techniques. Results indicate that the majority of respondents found this outdoor experience to be "one of the best in their life." Participants report positive effects on their personal,...


Have Better Self-discipline

Self-discipline is an important development that many children struggle with. Spending time in nature can help children slow down, consider their options and make direct connections between cause and effects.

Access to Nature Nurtures Self-Discipline

This study focuses on the positive benefits to inner city youth, particularly girls, from access to green spaces for play. Even a view of green settings enhances peace, self-control, and self-discipline. While the results are most notable for girls, the evidence is not limited to the positive impact on girls. (Original Research)

Taylor, Andrea Faber; Frances E. Kuo; and William C. Sullivan. "Views of Nature and Self-Discipline: Evidence from Inner City Children." In the Journal of Environmental Psychology, 21, 2001. © 2001 Academic Press. Available on the Web site of the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, at



Are More Cooperative with Others

Time spent outdoors supports many aspects of children’s health, including their ability to connect and cooperate with others.

Natural environments near schools are positively associated with the socio-emotional and behavioral development of preschool children

This study investigated associations between preschool children’s socio-emotional and behavioral (SEB) development and natural features near the schools they attended. A primary goal of the study was to understand how “school nature” might contribute to children’s SEB development, beyond what the children gained from “home nature” (natural elements in the home environment).

Researchers obtained Fall (November) and Spring (May) assessment results of preschoolers participating in a publicly funded preschool program in Charlotte, North Carolina for the academic year 2013-2014. Teachers from 50 different schools administered the Devereux Early Childhood Assessment Preschool Program, Second Edition (DECAP2) to the preschoolers in their class. The DECAP2 is a nationally standardized tool...


Are Good Problem-solvers

Did you know a simple game of hide-and-go-seek can help develop problem-solving skills? Playing a game like this in the outdoors allows children to make observations, look for patterns and listen to discover where their friends and family might be hiding. Nature presents challenges for children; letting kids use their own ideas to solve them. Such challenges can also inspire cooperation — kids may try solving those problems with other kids before engaging their parents, teachers or play leaders.

Time spent outdoors supports many aspects of children’s health. Below is a snapshot from Dr. Stephen R. Kellert of Yale University "Nature and Childhood Development." that cites the importance of nature play and how it relates to problem solving during a child's development. Also included is a statement from National Wildlife Federation and their findings from a 2010 survey.

Direct Experience in Nature Is Critical and Diminishing

Nature is important to children’s development in every major way-intellectually, emotionally, socially, spiritually, and...


Feel More Capable and Confident

Have you ever watched children’s faces light up when they catch their first fish, or reap the first harvest from something they planted? In that moment they have done something so much more than catch a fish — they have been empowered with a skill that will help them be self-reliant.

“I enjoy watching my girls try different methods to catch a fish,” says parent Caleb Harris. “Sometimes what they try doesn’t always work, so I encourage them to try another way. We laugh a lot about some of the silly things we try. Telling their friends how they caught the fish is almost as fun for them as sharing the fact they actually caught one.”

A great way to engage teens and help them master outdoor skills is to have them share their knowledge with younger kids. The thoughtful interaction that can occur is one more step in the journey to self-reliance.

Children who spend time playing in nature are more capable, confident and have higher resilience. These are all abilities that parents want for their children.

The Role of ‘Resilience’ in Relation to the Learning and...

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Are More Creative

Have you ever asked children to tell you what they see, think, smell or feel in a natural setting? Are you amazed at how creative their answers can be? Nature has long been the source of inspiration for ideas, works of art, inventions, literature and music. When kids come up with their own games they are fostering their imaginations.

Creativity is a strong component of critical thinking and important in a child’s development. More importantly, when kids are allowed to explore and use their imagination, it’s really fun for them and the accompanying adults.

City Parks Offer a Sense of Place

This brief article draws on solid research, some of which is independently referenced elsewhere in this list. Among the points made are that city parks offer a sense of place, opportunity for daily experience with nature, experiences that enhance school achievement, and antidotes to alienation. This American Planning Association City Parks Forum Briefing Paper is largely inspired by the work of Robin Moore, noted and pioneering landscape designer with a...


Feel Connected with Nature

When children build a relationship with nature, they tend to be more inclined to care about their natural world as adults. Learning about food webs, water systems, weather and migration patterns of wildlife all helps kids understand the relationship between themselves and the world around them.

Stewardship can be as simple as sharing a love of the outdoors with another person, or something grander like volunteering. At each touch point, kids start to build their own connection and start to care about the things that spark their interest.

Nature Matters

People are drawn to gardens, forests, and other natural spots for recreation and for vacations. Homes near parks typically gain in value. The designers and operators of hotels, spas, and golf courses know that beautiful grounds attract customers. In the words of University of Michigan psychologist Rachel Kaplan, “Nature matters to people. Big trees and small trees, glistening water, chirping birds, budding bushes, colorful flowers—these are important ingredients in a good life.” (Kaplan, 1983, p...


Are Tomorrow’s Conservation Leaders

When children are given the chance to connect with nature at a young age, they are more likely to care about it as adults. Below are articles relating to how connecting kids with nature will help develop the next generation of environmental stewards.

Direct Experience and Mentoring Are Key Elements

The focus of this recent research from Dr. Louise Chawla is on those factors that contribute to individuals choosing to take action to benefit the environment when they are adults. This is a reprise of earlier research by Dr. Chawla in the 1990s (Journal of Environmental Education, 1998, 1999). Positive, direct experience in the out-of-doors and being taken outdoors by someone close to the child-a parent, grand parent, or other trusted guardian-are the two most significant contributing factors. While lifelong activism is the primary focus of Dr. Chawla’s inquiry, as reported in this article, her well-documented study includes citations and explanations of many additional benefits to children from early experiences in the out-of-doors. Creativity, physical...