How important is nature? Children growing up near forests have smoother cognitive development and better mental health

How important is nature? Children growing up near forests have smoother cognitive development and better mental health

It’s no coincidence that they say nature is a balm for your soul. Just imagine how satisfying it is for us to go, for example, to the forest or somewhere to the river after a hard working week. There you can forget about all that bothers you, at least for a while. But did you know that nature has magical effects not only on us, as adults, but also on children?

Even a few minutes long stay in nature is a balm for our minds and our souls, and it is no different for children. Of course, this doesn’t mean we have to pack our bags and move to the woods immediately. Scientists have shown that living in the city has also a positive impact on children and teenagers, if they at least have occasional access to a forest environment.

The forest as medicine

The study demonstrating this positive effect on children was published in Nature Sustainability, and was initiated by researchers from University College London and Imperial College. Their aim was to find out how different types of natural urban environments affect the cognitive development, mental health and overall well-being of more than 3,500 children and teenagers aged between 9 and 15 years. 

The researchers divided the respondents into several groups based on how far they lived from some of the nearest wooded areas where they could indulge in a walk in nature. They found that the closer the children and teenagers lived to the forest, the higher scores they achieved in the cognitive test. They also showed a 16% lower risk of developing emotional or behavioural problems. 

However, the same effect was not confirmed in respondents who lived near, for example, a meadow or field, or near water. For some reason, only forests have such an effect on us. How come? The study's author, Mikaël Maes, said that this was not entirely clear to scientists. However, he emphasized that the findings were clear enough for us to accept the importance of staying with children in nature, both for their cognitive development and for their mental health. 

Nature boosts immunity

There are many more advantages to taking your children to the forest regularly. One of the other reasons is the fact that, for example, playing in the natural environment can significantly boost the child's immune system in as little as one month. Researchers from the University of Helsinki in Finland, who published their findings in Science Advances, also succeeded in demonstrating this effect. 

Their study has shown that regular play in nature significantly affects the diversity of “beneficial” bacteria in our microbiome, even after one month. As researchers point out, this finding also explains why children in highly industrialised parts of the world so often suffer from various autoimmune diseases. This may also be due to the fact that they are practically not in contact with our most natural environment: nature itself. 

One can work on their love for nature

You may be bothered by the fact that your child has not yet built a stronger relationship with nature. A great way to work on this and change it, for example, is to read them fairy tales from the natural environment, thanks to which they will form a relationship with it. In this way, you can trigger the child's curiosity and they will begin to take an interest in connecting with nature. You can of course find such fairy tales in our Readmio app.

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