townsend-childrensmentalhealth-2006.pdf (1.62 MB)
Children's mental health and wellbeing and hands-on contact with nature
journal contributionposted on 2006-01-01, 00:00 authored by Cecily Maller, Mardie TownsendMardie Townsend
Research on the health and wellbeing benefits of contact with animals and plants indicates the natural environment may have significant positive psychological and physiological effects on human health and wellbeing. In terms of children, studies have demonstrated that children function better cognitively and emotionally in 'green' environments and have more creative play. In Australia as well as internationally, many schools appear to be incorporating nature-based activities into their curricula, mostly via sustainability education. Although these programs appear to be successful, few have been evaluated, particularly in terms of the potential benefits to health and wellbeing. This paper reports on a pilot survey investigating the mental health benefits of contact with nature for primary school children in Melbourne, Australia. A survey of principals and teachers was conducted in urban primary schools within a 20km radius of Melbourne. As well as gathering data on the types and extent of environmental and other nature-based activities in the sample schools, items addressing the perceptions of principals and teachers of the potential effects of these activities on children's mental health and wellbeing were also included. Despite a lower than expected response rate, some interesting findings emerged. Although preliminary, results indicate that participants' perceptions of the benefits to mental health and wellbeing from participation in hands-on nature based activities at their school are positive and encompass many aspects of mental health.