Nature Promotes Child Health

How to Implement Project Nature in your Practice

Danette Glassy, MD, FAAP, Co-founder and Board President BestStart Washington

Time in nature inspires awe, but is also important for human health.  Research continues to confirm that time in, or even near nature makes children healthier.  Studies show many benefits that improve the lives of children and their families over time (see this review article in Pediatrics):

  • Spending time near or in nature can increase happiness, decrease stress, restore cognitive capacities, and provide a boost to mental health including fewer symptoms of depression and anxiety in children.
  • Outdoor recess at school is correlated with more physical activity, better behavior, and children come back to the classroom more able to concentrate on learning
  • Living near or spending time in nature or greenspaces promotes health by reducing exposure to poor air quality, high heat, and noise
  • Increased exposure to greenspaces during pregnancy is associated with better pregnancy outcomes including higher birth weights and less risk of preterm birth
  • Children are more active outdoors compared to indoors, and “green exercise” -exercising in nature – offers additional restorative benefits
  • Time outdoors is beneficial for children’s vision, helps prevent the development and progression of myopia (nearsightedness)
  • Time in nature helps with symptoms of ADHD (attention deficit hyperactivity disorder)
  • Gardening has been found to help children try more fruits and vegetables
  • Immersive experiences in the wilderness can be helpful for youth struggling with behavioral and/or substance use issues
  • Spending time in nature helps children develop pro-environmental attitudes and behaviors, and a sense of connection with the natural world
  • There is reduced property and violent crime near residential buildings surrounded by greater vegetation

As pediatricians we can encourage more time in nature, but we must understand the barriers for our patients. In a survey of Washington State families, they told us about the things that kept them from experiencing nature:

  • Family or Child preference- “I’m not an outdoor kid”, rise of digital entertainment, overscheduling, cultural norms
  • Access to safe green space – not all families have a back yard, not all families live near a walkable, safe park, especially hard hitting for families from low socioeconomic circumstances
  • Weather – belief that rain or cold weather causes illness, lack of access to weather-supportive clothing, climate change accentuating these issues and fear of outdoors

Project Nature helps pediatric practices encourage more nature time for their patients and families. Project Nature empowers families during well child checks for children ages 1-10 years, tailored to fit into the flow of the office.  Families get an engaging, age-specific brochure and children get a fun nature toy.  Both families and pediatric practices have rated Project Nature highly, while families have reported more nature time.

Your practice can implement Project Nature: The University of Washington has funded a role out of Project Nature to five pediatric practices across Washington State, outside of King County.  Practices will receive technical assistance, all nature materials, MOC 4 and Category 1 CME, plus up to $500 stipend.  Your patients will be surveyed with compensation before and after the roll out.  To learn more, see https://beststartwa.org/project-nature/ or contact Edna Maddalena – Edna@BestStartWa.org

This UW funded opportunity begins in January, so contact us now to get started.  Dr. Julian Ayer implemented Project Nature in his practice and wrote: “Project Nature materials provide an easy prompt to explore with families creative ways to spend time outside and highlight benefits of doing so. I learned great ideas from these exchanges that I’d then later pass on. It is an energizing space to be in and I’m hopeful will continue to gain momentum and spread.”

You can help add resources for families in your community: help us with your local greenspace recommendations to add to www.projectnaturewa.com .  Just email Edna Maddalena – edna@BestStartwa.org with your favorite, local parks, outdoor programs, community nature programs, and greenspaces.  Help us make this website truly useful to the families in your community.