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               As a child, I felt as though the place where I most belonged was amongst nature. I felt drawn to it. When I was younger, I would constantly ask my parents to go to the local nature park and explore. I would be the happiest and most energetic when surrounded by trees, bushes, running water, and wild animals. I have always felt this passion inside me. And so, this got me wondering, are any scientific studies looking at the positive benefits of nature? I definitely feel re-energized after hiking up a mountain or running around a forest. But, is there any scientific biases to my personal experience? In order to find out, I decided to read quite a few scientific articles, systematic reviews, and book chapters on the relationship between nature and child development. In this blog post, I would like to relay to you guys what I found. In summary, as a child grows and explores our world, they begin to encounter a variety of new external stimuli, which not only helps them learn about the world around them, but also about themselves. Our natural environment is especially conducive to child development as it gives children diverse opportunities to explore and play. Unstructured child-directed play in nature has been shown to enhance cognitive development, socio-emotional development, motor development, physical activity, and respect for our environment1,2,3,4.

Now, I would like to breakdown each component of development separately for you guys, beginning with cognitive development. Starting from a very young age, children are tasked with “identifying, naming, classifying, and learning about the natural world” 4. Being in nature allows children to be exposed to a plethora of new vegetation, animals, and geological formations. Through trips to the local nature park or nearby forest, children can explore this new and exciting world for themselves (under the guidance of an adult). Personally, I’ve always loved walking through parks filled with tall trees, vibrant flowers, flowing streams, large (climbable) rock formations, small birds, squirrels, frogs and even turtles, never really knowing what is around the next corner. All of these new stimuli can be exciting for a child, which can also act as an opportunity to learn about nature. It really is a different experience seeing a mushroom in the wild vs. at the store, or seeing a wood-pecker in its natural habitat compared to on the television. Being in nature can also influence the type and amount of play. Compared to play in a traditional playground, children playing in nature seem to demonstrate greater amounts of imaginative and constructive play, which can stimulate creativity and problem-solving ability2,5.

               When I was around 10-years-old, my father would often bring us to Parc-nature de l’Île-de-la-Visitation on Gouin Street. At the time, I didn’t even know the name of the park (I only found that out when an adult). As a child, this park was solely known as “The Adventure Park.” I would beg my dad to bring my brothers and I to this park every chance I could. It felt so special to me. If you have ever been, you would know that this park is gigantic. There are multiple paths surrounded by large trees, all connected to each other. The park is flanked by the Prairies River, which has a hydroelectricity dam within it. There are two sections of the park connected by a bridge. Because of its large scale, two separate sections (separated by a river), and large mysterious device creating humongous wave (which I now know generates electricity), this park truly felt like an adventure. There was even one evening where fireflies circled my family. I will never forget the moment when I saw my grandmother surrounded by beautiful lights. From this experience, I can definitely understand how much nature has to offer us and how the amount of diversity experienced may contribute to my development.   

Read Part 2 here