Volume 8, Issue 6, December 2019, Page: 142-150
The Role of Interaction with Nature in Childhood Development: An Under-Appreciated Ecosystem Service
James Kevin Summers, Gulf Ecology Division/National Health and Environmental Effects Research Laboratory, Office of Research and Development/U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Gulf Breeze, The United States
Deborah Nicole Vivian, Gulf Ecology Division/National Health and Environmental Effects Research Laboratory, Office of Research and Development/U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Gulf Breeze, The United States
James Tobias Summers, Newhart Middle School, Mission Viejo, The United States; Crosby Middle School, Louisville, The United States
Received: Sep. 3, 2019;       Accepted: Oct. 5, 2019;       Published: Nov. 5, 2019
DOI: 10.11648/j.pbs.20190806.11      View  26      Downloads  9
Humans depend on the vital services provided by natural ecosystems. Regrettably, some individuals believe these ecosystem services are free; and therefore, have no value. An under-appreciated service provided by ecosystems is strengthening childhood development through interaction with nature to enhance childhood cognitive and physical development. The development of a child’s physical and cognitive abilities is complex with studies indicating multiple determinants and varied time scales. Childhood development is the product of many natural, social and built environmental attributes. While the impacts of social and built environments on childhood development are clearly described in the scientific literature, the role of natural environment is less clear. Even though people do not pay for this ecosystem service in a conventional sense, the loss of this service can result in a significant cost to humans through slower cognitive and physical development in children. Deprivation of these exposures to natural ecosystems can diminish a child’s development and eventually their underlying quality of life. While the impact of nature on childhood development is understood by most child developmental psychologists, this impact is under-appreciated by non-social scientists studying the contributions of ecosystem services in society. The complicated and symbiotic interactions of natural ecosystems, their services and childhood development are poorly acknowledged in the ecological literature. In this article, the important role of natural ecosystems and their services in childhood cognitive and physical development are examined through an examination of studies assessing this childhood development-ecosystem service connection.
Child Development, Ecosystem Services, Cognition, Nature
To cite this article
James Kevin Summers, Deborah Nicole Vivian, James Tobias Summers, The Role of Interaction with Nature in Childhood Development: An Under-Appreciated Ecosystem Service, Psychology and Behavioral Sciences. Vol. 8, No. 6, 2019, pp. 142-150. doi: 10.11648/j.pbs.20190806.11
Copyright © 2019 Authors retain the copyright of this article.
This article is an open access article distributed under the Creative Commons Attribution License (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/) which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.
Piaget, J., Inhelder, B. (1972). The psychology of the child. New York: The Perseus Books Group.
Doherty, G. (1997). Zero to six: the basis for school readiness. Quebec: Human Resources Development.
Heerwagen, J. H., Orians, G. H. (2002) The ecological world of children. pp. 29-64. In Kahn, P. H. J., Kellert, S. R. (eds.) Children and Nature: Psychological, Sociocultural, and Evolutionary Investigations. Cambridge: MIT Press.
Kellert, S. R. (2002) Experiencing Nature: Affective, Cognitive and Evaluative Development. pp. 117-152. In Kahn, P. H., Kellert, S. R. (eds.) Children and Nature: Psychological, Sociocultural, and Evolutionary Investigations. Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press).
Kellert, S. R. (2005) Building for Life – Designing and Understanding the Human-Nature Connection. Island Press: Washington, D. C.
Hart, R. (1997) Children’s Participation: The Theory and Practice of Involving Young Citizens in Community Development and Environmental Care. UNICEF and Earthscan: New York, NY.
Capra, F. (1999). Ecoliteracy: The Challenge for Education in the Next Century. Center for Ecoliteracy: Berkeley, CA.
Moore, R. C. (2000) Childhood’s domain: Play and place in child development. Michigan Quarterly Review 39: 477-481.
Cramer, J. R. (2008) Reviving the connection between children and nature: through service-learning restoration partnerships. Native Plants Journal 9: 278-286.
Daily, G. C. (1997) Nature’s services: Societal dependence on natural ecosystems, 391 pp., Washington, DC: Island Press.
Summers, J. K., Vivian, D. N. (2018). Ecotherapy – A forgotten ecosystem service: A review. Frontiers in Psychology. https://doi.org/10.3389/fpsyg.2018.01389.
Bratman, G. N., Daily, G. C., Levy, B. J., Gross, J. J. (2015) The benefits of nature experience: Improved affect and cognition. Landscape and Urban Planning 138: 41-50.
Chawla, L. (2015) Benefits of nature contact for children. Journal of Planning Literature 30: 433-452.
Dadvand, P., Nieuwenhuijsen, M. J., Esnaola, M., Forns, J., Basagana, X., Alkvarez-Pedrero, M., Rivas, I., Lopez-Vicente, M., De Castro Pascual, M., Su, J., Jerrett, M., Querol, X., Sunyer, J. (2015). Green spaces and cognitive development in primary schoolchildren. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 112: 7937-7942.
De Keijzer, C., Gascon, M., Nieuwenhuijsen, M. J., Dadvand, P. (2016) Long-term green space exposure and cognition across the life course: A systematic review. Current Environmental Health Reports 3: 468-477.
Ward, J. S., Duncan, J. S., Jarden, A., Stewart, T. (2016) The impact of children’s exposure to greenspace on physical activity, cognitive development, emotional well-being, and ability to appraise risk. Health & Place 40: 44-50.
Adams, S., Savahl, S. (2017) Children’s discourses of natural spaces: Considerations for children’s subjective well-being. Child Indicators Research 10: 423-446.
Amicone, G., Petruccelli, I., De Dominicus, S., Gherardini, A., Costantino, V., Perucchini, P., Bonaiuto, M. (2018) Green breaks: The restorative effect of the school environment’s green areas on children’s cognitive performance. Frontiers in Psychology 9: 1579. doi: 10.3389/fpsyg.2018.01579.
Stevenson, M. P., Dewhurst, R., Schilhab, T., Bentsen, P. (2019) Cognitive restoration in children following exposure to nature: Evidence from Attention Network Task and mobile eye tracking. Frontiers in Psychology 10: 42 doi: 10.3389/fpsyg.2019.00042.
Wyles, K. J., White, M. P., Hattam, C., Pahl, S. (2019) Are some natural environments more psychologically beneficial than others? The importance of type and quality on connectedness to nature and psychological restoration. Environment and Behavior 0013916517738312. https://doi.org/10.1177/0013916517738312.
Brown, K. W., Ryan, R. M. (2003) The benefits of being present: mindfulness and its role in psychological well-being." Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 84: 822-848.
Aspinall, P., Mavros, P., Coyne, R., Roe, J. (2013) The urban brain: Analysing outdoor physical activity with mobile EEG. British Journal of Sports Medicine, arch 6, 2013, doi: 10.1136/bjsports-2012-091877.
Cobb, E. (1969) The ecology of imagination in childhood. In P. Shephard and D. McKinley, The Subversive Science: Essays Towards an Ecology of Man, pp. 122-132. Boston: Houghton Mufflin.
Karsten, L. (2005) It used to be better? Different generations on continuity and change in urban children’s daily use of space. Children’s Geographies 3: 275-290.
Veitch, J., Salmon, J., Ball, K. (2010) Individual, social and physical environmental correlates of children’s active free-play: a cross-sectional study. International Journal of Behavioral Nutrition and Physical Activity 7: 11. https://ijbnpa.biomedcentral.com/track/pdf/10.1186/1479-5868-7-11?site=ijbnpa.biomedcentral.com.
Little, H., Wyver, S. (2008) Outdoor play: Does avoiding the risks reduce the benefits? Australian Journal of Early Childhood 33: 33-40.
Poirer, F. E. (1970). The Nilgiri langur of South India. In: L. A. Rosemblum (ed.) Primate Behavior: Developments in Field and Laboratory Research, Vol. 1, pp. 251-383. Academic Press, New York.
Bekoff, M. (1972). The development of social interaction, play, and metacommunication in mammals: An ethnological perspective. The Quarterly Review of Biology 47: 412-434.
Axline, V. M. (1969). Play Therapy. Ballantine Books, New York.
Rubin, K. H., Maioni, T. L., Homung, M. (1976). Free play behaviors in middle- and pre-schoolers: Parten and Piaget revisited. Child Development 47: 414-419.
White, R. and Stoecklin, L. (1998). Children’s outdoor play and learning environments: Returning to nature. Early Childhood News 10: 24-30.
Sobel, D. (1993) Children’s special places: Exploring the role of forts, dens and bush houses in middle childhood. Tucson: Zephyr Press.
Sobel, D. (2008) Childhood and nature: Design principles for educators. Portland, ME: Stenhouse Publishers.
Sobel, D. (2017) Wild play: Parenting adventures in the great outdoors. San Francisco: Sierra Club Books.
Clements, R. 2004. An investigation of the status of outdoor play. Contemporary Issues in Early Childhood. 3: 68-80.
Fjortoft, I. 2001. The natural environment as a playground for children: The impact of outdoor play activities in pre-primary school children. Early Childhood Education Journal 29: 111-117.
O’Brien, E., Murray, R. (2006) A marvelous opportunity for children to learn: A participatory evaluation of Forest School in England and Wales. England: Forestry Commission.
Gleave, J. (2009) Children’s Time To Play: A Literature Review. London: Play England.
Dowdell, K., Gray, T., Malone, K. (2011). Nature and its influence on children’s outdoor play. Australian Journal of Outdoor Education 15: 24-35.
Singer, D. G., Singer, J. L., D’Agostino, H., DeLong, R. (2009). Children’s pastimes and play in sixteen nations: Is free-play declining? American Journal of Play 1: 1-30.
White, R., Stoecklin, L. (2008) Nurturing children’s biophilia: Developmentally appropriate environmental education for young children. http://citeseerx.ist.psu.edu/viewdoc/download?doi=
Bradekamp, S., Copple, C. (1997) Developmentally appropriate practice in early childhood education. Washington, D. C.: National Association for the Education of Young Children.
Louv, R. (2008) Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children from Nature Deficit Disorder. Chapel Hill, NC: Algonquin Press.
Bandoroff, S., Schrer, D. G. (1994) Wilderness family therapy: An innovative treatment approach for problem youth. Journal of Child and Family Studies 3: 175-191.
Kellert, S. R., Derr, V. (1998) National Study of Outdoor Wilderness Experience. Washington, DC: Island Press.
Kuo, F. E., A. Faber Taylor, A. (2004) A potential natural treatment for attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder: evidence from a national study. American Journal of Public Health 94: 1580-1586.
Noddings, N. (2006) Critical lessons: What our schools should teach. New York: Cambridge University Press.
Wells, N. M., Evans, G. W. (2003) Nearby nature: a buffer of life stress among rural children, Environment and Behavior 35: 311-330.
Faber Taylor, A., Kuo, F. E., Sullivan, W. C. (2002) Views of nature and self-discipline: Evidence from inner city children. Journal of Environmental Psychology 22: 49-64.
Kahn, P. H. (2002) “Children’s affiliations with nature: Structure, development and the problem of environmental generational amnesia in Children and Nature: Psychological, Sociocultural and Evolutionary Investigations, eds. P. H. Kahn and S. R. Kellert (Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press), 93-11.
Spencer, C., H. Wooley, H. (2000) Children and the city: A summary of recent environmental psychology research. Child: Care, Health and Development 26: 395-422.
Kaplan, S. (1995) The restorative benefits of nature: Toward an integrative framework. Journal; of Environmental Psychology 15: 169-182.
Kahn, P. H. (1997) Developmental psychology and the biophilia hypothesis: Children’s affiliation with nature. Developmental Review 17: 1-61.
Kaplan, S. R., J. F. Talbot, J. F. (1983) “Psychological benefits of nature: toward an integrative framework” in Behavior and the Natural Environment, eds. I. Altman and J. F. Wohlwill (New York: Plenum Press), 163-204.
Basile, C. G. (2000) Environmental education as a catalyst for transfer of learning in young children. Journal of Environmental Education 32: 21-27.
Ratanapojnard, S. (2001) Community-Oriented Biodiversity Environmental Education: Its Effect on Knowledge, Values, and Behavior Among Rural Fifth- and Sixth-Grader Students in northeastern Thailand. Ph. D. Thesis. School of Forestry and Environmental Studies, Yale University.
Kirkby, M. (1989) Nature as refuge in children’s environments. Children’s Environments Quarterly 6: 1-12.
Faber Taylor, A., Wiley, A., Kuo, F. E., Sullivan, W. C. (1998) Growing up in the inner city: green spaces as places to grow. Environment and Behavior 30: 3-27.
Chipeniuk, R. (1995) Childhood foraging as a means of acquiring competent human cognition about biodiversity. Environment and Behavior 27: 490-512.
Falk, J. D., Dierking, L. D. (1997) School field trips: Assessing their long-term impact. Curator 40: 211-218.
Wells, N. M. (2000) A home with nature: Effects of “greenness” on children’s cognitive functioning. Environment and Behavior 39: 775-795.
Kisiel, J. (2005) Understanding elementary teachers’ motivations for science fieldtrips. Science Education 86: 936-955.
Tzoulas, K., Korpela, K., Venn, S., Yli-Pelkonen, V., Kazmierczak, A., Niemela, J., James, P. (2007) Promoting ecosystem and human health in urban areas using green infrastructure: A literature review. Landscape and Urban Planning 81: 167-178.
Del Carmen Ruiz, J., Quackenboss, J. J., Tulve, N. S. (2016) Contributions of a child’s built, natural, and social environments to their general cognitive ability: A systematic scoping review. PloS ONE 11: e0147741; doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0147741.
Berman, M. G., Kross, E., Krpan, K. M., Askren, M. K., Burson, A., Deldin, P. J., Kaplan, S., Sherdell, L., Gotlib, I. H., Jonides, J. (2012) Interacting with nature improves cognition and affect for individuals with depression. Journal of Affective Disorders: 140: 300-305.
Bloom, B. S., Engelhart, M. B., Furst, E. J. Hill, W. H., Krathwohl, D. R. (1956) Taxonomy of educational objectives, Handbook I: The classification of educational goals – Cognitive domain. New York: Longman.
Maker, C. J., Schiever, S. W. (2005) Teaching models in education of the gifted. Austin: Pro-Ed, Inc.
Kellert, S. R. (1996) The value of life: Biological diversity and human society. Washington, D. C.: Island Press.
Darwin, C. (1839) The Voyage of the Beagle (Journal and Remarks). London: Henry Colburn.
Pretty, J., Griffin, M., Sellens, M., Pretty, C. J. (2003) Green Exercise: Complimentary Roles of Nature, Exercise and Diet in Physical and Emotional Well-Being and Implications for Public Health. CES Occasional Paper 2003-1, Colchester: University of Essex.
Pretty, J., Peacock, J., Sellens, M., Griffin, M. (2005) The mental and physical health outcomes of green exercise. International Journal of Environmental Health Research 15: 319-337.
Pretty, J., Peacock, J., Hine, R., Sellens, M., South, N., Griffin, M. (2007) Green exercise in the UK countryside: Effects on health and psychological well-being, and implications for policy and planning. Journal of Environmental Planning and Management 50: 211-231.
Peacock, J., Hine, R., Pretty, J. (2007) Got the blues, then find some Greenspace. The Mental Benefits of Green Exercise Activities and Green Care. Report for Mind 2007. 18 pp.
Bird, W. (2007) Natural Thinking: Investigating the Links between the Natural Environment, Biodiversity and Mental Health. Royal Society for the Protection of Birds. http://www/rspb.org.uk/Images/naturalthinking_tcm9-161856.pdf.
MIND. (2007) Ecotherapy: The Green Agenda for Mental Health. Mindweek report. http://www.mind.org.uk/NR/rdonlyres/D9A930D2-30D4-4E5B-BE79-1D401B804165/0/ecotherapy.pdf.
Burls, A. (2007) People and green spaces: Promoting public health and well-being through Ecotherapy. Journal of Public Mental Health 6: 16: 24-39.
Plante, C. G., Gores, C., Brecht, C., Carrow, J., Imbs, A., Willemsen, E. (2007) Does exercise environment enhance the psychological benefits of exercise for women? International Journal of Stress Management 14: 88-98.
Barton, J., Hine, R., Pretty, J. (2009) The health benefits of walking in greenspaces of high natural and heritage value. Journal of Integrative Environmental Science 6: 261-278.
Focht, B. C. (2009). Brief walks in outdoor and laboratory environments: effects on affective responses, enjoyment, and intentions to walk for exercise. Research Quarterly in Exercise and Sport 80, 611–620.
Teas, J., Hurley, T., Ghumare, S., Ogoussan, K. (2007) Walking outside improves mood for healthy postmenopausal women. Clinical Medicine: Oncology. 1: 35-43.
Ryan, R. M., Weinstein, N., Bernstein, J., Warren Brown, K., Mistretta, L., Gagne, M. (2010) Vitalizing effects of being outdoors and in nature. Journal of Environmental Psychology 30: 159-168.
Plante, T. G., Aldridge, A., Su, D., Bogdan, R., Belo, M., Kahn, M. (2003) Does virtual reality enhance the management of stress when paired with exercise? An exploratory study. International Journal of Stress Management 10: 203-216.
Plante, T. G., Cage, C., Clements, S., Stove, A. (2006) Psychological benefits of exercise paired with virtual reality: Outdoor exercise energizes whereas indoor virtual exercise relaxes. International Journal of Stress Management 13: 108-117.
McMurray, R. G., Berry, M. J., Vann, R. T., Hardy, C. J., Sheps, D. S. (1988) The effect of running in an outdoor environment on plasma beta endorphins. Annals of Sports Medicine and Research 3: 230-233.
Harte, J. L., Eifert, G. H. (1995) The effects of running, environment, and attentional focus on athletes’ catecholamine and cortisol levels and mood. 1995. Psychophysiology 32: 49-54.
Kerr, J. H., Fujiyama, H., Sugano, A., Okamura, T., Chang, M., Onouha, F. (2006) Psychological responses to exercising in laboratory and natural environments. Psychology of Sport and Exercise 7: 345-359.
Hug, S. M., Hansmann, R., Monn, C., Kratli, P., Seeland. K. (2008) Restorative effects of physical activity in forests and indoor settings. International Journal of Fitness. 4: 25-37.
Greenleaf, A. T., Bryant, R. M., Pollack, J. B. (2014) Nature-based counseling: Integrating the healing benefits of nature into practice. International Journal for the Advancement of Counselling 36: 162-174.
Weiss, P. L., Bialik, P., Kizony, R. (2003) Virtual Reality provides leisure time opportunities for young adults with physical and intellectual disabilities. CyberPsychology & Behavior 6: 335-342.
Roussou, M. (2004) Learning by doing and learning through play: An exploration of Interactivity in virtual environments for children. ACM Computers in Entertainment 2: 1-23.
Harris, K., Reid, D. (2005) The influence of virtual reality play on children’s motivation. The Canadian Journal of Occupational Therapy 72: 21-29.
Marsh, J. (2010) Young children’s play in online virtual worlds. Journal of Early Childhood Research 8: 23-39.
Landers, D., Nahlik, A. (2013) Final Ecosystem Goods and Services Classification System (FEGS-CS). EPA/600/R-13/ORD-004914, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Washington, D. C.
Buck, K. D., J. K. Summers, L. M. Smith and L. C. Harwell. 2017. Application of the Human Well-Being Index to Sensitive Population Divisions: A Children’s Well-Being Index Development. Child Indicator Research 11 (4): 1249-1280. https://doi.org/10.1007/s12187-017-9469-4.
Louv, R. (2012) The Nature Principle: Reconnecting with Life in a Virtual Age. Chapel Hill, NC: Algonquin Books.
Louv, R. (2016) Vitamin N: The Essential Guide to a Nature-Rich Life. Chapel Hill, NC: Algonquin Books.
Kuo, M., Barnes, M., Jordan, C. (2019) Do Experiences with nature promote learning? Converging evidence of a cause-and-effect relationship. Frontiers in Psychology. doi: 10.3389.fpsyg.2019.00305.
Hartig, T., Mitchell, R., de Vries, S., Frumkin, H. (2014) Nature and health. Annual Review of Public Health 35: 207-228.
Bowler, D. E., Buyung-Ali, L. M., Knight, T. M., Pullin, A. S. (2010) A systematic review of evidence for the added benefits to health of exposure to natural environments. BMC Public Health 10: 456. https://doi.org/10.1186/1471-2458-10-456.
Gibbons, A. (2007) Philosophers as children: Playing with style in the philosophy of education. Educational Philosophy and Theory. 39: 506-518.
Barnett, L. A. (2012) Playful people: Fun is in the mind of the beholder. Imagination, Cognition and Personality 31: 169-197.
Magnuson, C. D., Barnett, L. A. (2013) The playful advantage: How playfulness enhances coping with stress. Leisure Sciences 35: 129-144.
Mehl, M. R., Vazire, S., Holleran, S. E., Clark, C. S. (2010). Eavesdropping on happiness: well-being is related to having less small talk and more substantive conversations. Psychological Science 21: 539-541.
Browse journals by subject