Benefits of children's
early contact
with nature

Early contact of children with nature plays an important role in the development of pro-environmental values and behavior in every adolescent child.

Time spent in nature is not made for the purpose of filling free time or carrying out “activities of interest”; it represents something much more, namely: a significant investment in children’s health. There is growing evidence that children are detaching themselves from their connection to the natural world and the environment around them.

The results of various studies show that without direct contact with nature, children miss the opportunity to improve their health and well-being, as well as to develop responsible behavior towards the environment in the long run. One of the biggest causes of the ecological crisis is the state of personal alienation from nature, in which many people live and in particular – many children.

How to limit contact with the virtual world

In an increasingly urbanized world, saturated with technology (television, computers, telephones) and extracurricular activities competing for time – fewer children have the opportunity to enjoy the game in nature. Nature-deficient disorder describes the harmful effects on humans as a result of this distinct division between children and nature. Today, they are aware of global threats to the environment, but their physical contact and closeness to nature are declining significantly.

A number of international studies show that fewer and fewer children have direct contact with nature, with most of them playing more often indoors than outdoors. Studies show that many young people are “glued to the virtual world” and move away from nature, which is why they lack knowledge about biodiversity and awareness of its importance.

The benefits of a child's connection with nature

Many studies have shown the positive links between direct experiences in nature and the mental, emotional and physical health and well-being of children. Studies show that regular direct access to nature leads to:

  • increase self-confidence and resilience to stress and adversity
  • improving concentration, learning, creativity, cognitive development, collaboration, flexibility and self-awareness
  • prevention of childhood obesity.

A way to cultivate responsible behavior

Research also shows that through the positive experience gained in nature, children will develop their love for nature and this will serve as a basis for the development of responsible behavior towards the environment. Adult research that demonstrates a commitment to protecting the natural world shows that children’s experiences with nature play a fundamental role in determining attitudes in life, knowledge, or behavior toward the environment.

We must allow children to develop their biophilia, their love of the Earth, before requiring them to know nature purely theoretically. Only in this way will they be able to become its guardians.

Empathy and love for nature stem from children’s regular contact with the natural world. Practical, informal, self-initiated research and discoveries in the local, familiar environment are often described as the best ways to engage and inspire children and foster a sense of admiration and respect for the greatness of nature. These direct contacts with nature are the surest way to develop values that will last a lifetime.

Forming a love of knowledge through discovery

We are convinced that: “Knowledge will not remain without love. But if love comes first, knowledge will surely follow. “The problem with most environmental education programs for young children is that they try to pass on knowledge and responsibility before they instill in children a bond of love and devotion to the land. The emotional and affective values of children in nature develop earlier than their abstract, logical and rational perspectives.

We must allow children to develop their biophilia, their love for the Earth, before we ask them to save it. Instead of books and lectures, nature itself is the best teacher for children. Young children tend to develop an emotional attachment to what is familiar and comfortable to them. The closer the connection of children with nature, the more likely they are to become more concerned about the environment and active children.

The problem with environmental education is that it is adult-centered, not child-centered. Children’s curiosity about the natural world and the unique way of learning requires discovery and research training, not a didactic approach. One of the main problems of most environmental education is premature abstraction and the fact that children’s learning is too abstract.

If we try to teach children at an early age abstract concepts (such as nature pollution, the destruction of tropical forests, acid rain, ozone holes and whaling), we run the risk of confusing and misunderstanding them. When we ask children to deal with problems beyond their cognitive abilities, understanding and control, they may become anxious, depressed, and as a result develop a phobia of the problems. In case of environmental problems, biophobia can develop – fear of the natural world and environmental problems (fear of being outside).

Developing empathy

Developing children’s empathy for the natural world should be the main goal for children aged 4 to 7 years. Children’s experiences in early childhood should foster an understanding of the child for himself as part of nature. During early childhood, children’s experiences shape the values, attitudes and orientations towards the world that they will carry with them throughout their lives.

Regular positive interactions in nature help children develop respect and care for the environment. Not only the regular experiences in nature are important, but also the care of adults, both parents and teachers, who model the pleasure, comfort and respect for nature.

In addition to regular contact with nature, one of the best ways to promote empathy in early childhood is to cultivate children’s relationships with animals. Young children feel naturally connected and attracted to animals and especially babies. Animals are an endless source of wonder for children, who cultivate a caring attitude and a sense of responsibility towards living beings.

Children interact instinctively and naturally with animals, talk to them and invest in them emotionally. A little-known fact about children and animals is that studies of the dreams of children under the age of 6 reveal that as many as 80% of their dreams are about animals. An additional significance of the symbolic meaning of animals for children is that animals make up more than 90% of the characters used for language acquisition and counting in children’s preschool books.