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Next let’s move on to physical activity and motor development. Closer access to green spaces has been positively associated with physical activity, especially if these spaces had trees, open areas, and playgrounds1,3. Both traditional playgrounds and nature have been related to a comparable increase in moderate-to-vigorous activity in children2. On a personal note, being in the outdoors, especially as a child, filled me with so much energy and excitement. As soon as I would reach the park, I would climb trees, large boulders and playground equipment, run around, and explore nearby paths. I can understand how being surrounded by nature could encourage children to be active and adventure. It’s exciting to not know what is around the bend or beyond the trees. In order to access a greater number of parks as a teenager, I decided to look up all parks within a 40km radius of my house and cycle to them. I would always excitedly cycle towards the unknown, which I am sure kept me fit and active at the time.

Throughout my readings, I also found out that nature can positively impact socio-emotional development and mental health. Kahn & Kellert wrote that “the child’s experience of nature encompasses a wide complex of emotions—wonder, satisfaction, joy, for sure, but also challenge, fear, and anxiety as well. […] From the perspective of maturation and growth, all these and other emotions associated with the child’s experience of nature serve as powerful motivators and stimuli for learning and development.” Experiences with nature are especially influential during middle childhood and adolescence4. During this time, children and adolescents are developing a sense of identity, confidence, competence, self-esteem, and autonomy, as well as a sense of responsibility for life other than their own. Experiences in nature, such as outdoor programs and wilderness camps, can help older children and adolescents cultivate these important qualities through learning new skills, braving the wilderness, overcoming their fears, and bonding with their fellow campmates4. Not only is nature important for socio-emotional development, but psychological well-being as well. Nature can bolster psychological well-being by providing children with a space for “creative play, self-tests of their developing strength and skill, and [a] quiet retreat” 1. While only anecdotal, I can definitely attest to the power of nature to calm the mind. Being in on a quiet path surrounded by trees on a bright sunny day is when I am the happiest and most calm. If I am ever feeling anxious or upset about something, my natural instinct is to go for a walk (or cycle) around the park. It feels nice to be alone with my thoughts, in silence, with a warm breeze surrounding me. Physical activities in nature, such as sledding, skiing, biking, rock climbing, and running, also seem to calm my mind. These activities help keep me focused on the present moment and my worries are momentarily forgotten. If any of you guys have read my previous blog posts, you would know how important these activities are to me and how happy they make me feel.  

All in all, nature seems to have a multitude of positive benefits. I’m glad I got to learn about all of the positives nature has to offer us, and I hope you guys did too. If you have any children or younger siblings, I’d definitely recommend going for a walk in nature with them sometime soon. Fall is a wonderful time to appreciate the changing colours of the leaves. If you are not sure which park to go to, here is a list of all large parks in Montreal: https://montreal.ca/en/places?mtl_content.lieux.tags.code=PR015&orderBy=dc_title .  I hope you guys get out there and have fun!

References

[1] Chawla, L. (2015). Benefits of nature contact for children. Journal of Planning Literature, 30(4), 433–452.

[2] Dankiw, K. A., Tsiros, M. D., Baldock, K. L., & Kumar, S. (2020). The impacts of unstructured nature play on health in early childhood development: A systematic review. Plos One, 15(2), e0229006.

[3] Gill, T. (2014). The benefits of children’s engagement with nature: A systematic literature review. Children Youth and Environments, 24(2), 10–34.

[4] Kahn, P. H., & Kellert, S. R. (Eds.). (2002). Experiencing Nature: Affective, Cognitive,and Evaluative Development in Children. In Children and Nature: Psychological, Sociocultural, and Evolutionary Investigations (p. 0). The MIT Press. https://doi.org/10.7551/mitpress/1807.003.0006

[5] Parsons, A. (2011). Young children and nature: Outdoor play and development, experiences fostering environmental consciousness, and the implications on playground design.