Scientists Develop Tool to Measure a Child’s Connection With Nature

As people age, they often stumble upon the realization that time spent in nature appears to be directly correlated to feeling better mentally, physically and spiritually. This happens for several reasons, including the presence of negative ions in purified air, a reduction in stress (and, thus, lower blood pressure and heightened mood) and motivation due to the release of feel-good neurotransmitters.

Despite what many adults have realized anecdotally, it is startling to consider that the average child spends less than half of the amount of time playing outside as their parents did at the same age. In fact, a recent study by the Seattle Children’s Research Institute, published in the Archives of Pediatric & Adolescent Medicine, found that almost 50% of preschoolers lacked even one parent-supervised outdoor play session each day. Furthermore, children aged 10 to 16 now spend a mere 12.6 minutes a day on vigorous outdoor activity while they spend a shocking 10.4 hours being relatively motionless. 

To shed light on the importance of kids spending time outdoors, scientists at the University of Hong Kong and the University of Auckland developed a tool that measures a kid’s connectedness with nature. The 16-part questionnaire for parents is called the CNI-PPC, or Connected to Nature Index-Parents of Preschool Children. According to a statement made by the University of Hong Kong, the tool identifies how well children in Hong Kong relate to nature. 

Credit: Pixabay

Hong Kong was a focal point for the research because it poses challenges for kids when it comes to connecting with nature. With this tool, the scientists hope to inspire policy changes and interventions that will help strengthen interactions between kids and the natural environment. 

The questionnaire was created by Dr. Tanja Sobko for the School of Biological Sciences at the University of Hong Kong and Gavin Brown of the University of Auckland. It identifies four ways in which children usually develop a relationship with nature. These include “enjoyment of nature, empathy for nature, responsibility toward nature and awareness of nature.”

Approximately 500 families with kids between the ages of two and five took part in the study. After the families answered all 16 questions, the researchers measured the data against a well-known child behavior measurement, the Strengths and Difficulties Questionnaire. As TreeHugger reports, the results didn’t reveal anything new. Rather, it affirmed that the more time kids spend in nature, the happier they tend to be. 

Credit: Pixabay

Parents who saw their child had a closer connection with nature had less distress, less hyperactivity, fewer behavioral and emotional difficulties and improved pro-social behavior,” said the release. “Interestingly, children who took greater responsibility toward nature had fewer peer difficulties.”

The researchers noted that when a child grows up in an urban environment without access to green spaces, they may suffer lasting consequences. It can lead to a condition called “nature-deficit disorder” or “child-nature disconnectedness.” Over time, this can lead to both a deterioration of mental and of physical health. 

This is the first tool of its kind to measure a child’s connectedness with nature in an highly-urbanized Asian city. What are your thoughts? Please comment below and share this news!

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