Research Supporting EE

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Children Today, Outdoor Experiences and Impacts

Nature-deficit disorder is not an official diagnosis but a way of viewing the problem, and describes the human costs of alienation from nature, among them: diminished use of the senses, attention difficulties, and higher rates of physical and emotional illnesses. The disorder can be detected in individuals, families, and communities (Louv, 2005).

In Richard Louv’s book, Last Child in the Woods (2005), he coins the phrase “nature deficit disorder.” What Louv is referring to is the increased lack of contact our children have with nature and the resulting consequences on the social, cognitive and physical development and health of our children (download a summary of the book).  According the Kaiser Family Foundation (2005), our children are spending less than half the time out of doors that their parents did growing up. Another longitudinal study found that children under 13 living in the United States spend on average only about half an hour of unstructured time outdoors each week (Hofferth & Sadberg, 2001).  Even more recently, a 2010 survey reveals that our children are spending as much a 7.5 hours a day in front of electronic media (Kaiser Family Foundation, 2010). It is clear that our children today spend much more time indoors than they do outdoors and some believe this is leading to some significant impacts. Louv (2005) sites research to suggest that this emerging “nature deficit disorder” among our children is linked to epidemic rises in childhood obesity, increasing social and cognitive delays as our children enter the school systems and rises in diagnoses of Attention Deficit/Hyper-Active Disorder (ADHD), to name a few.


This is supported in a recently published research article, Using Nature and Outdoor Activity to Improve Children’s Health, written by McCurdy, et. Al and published in the journal, Current Problems in Pediatric and Adolescent Health Care (May 2010). In the forward to the article, editor Ruth A. Etzel, MD PhD, stated, “Within just one generation, the definition of ‘play’ has changed dramatically among children in industrialized countries.” Gone for many of our children are afternoons and weekends spent playing outdoors. The authors note “Physical activity is shown to improve children’s health, and a growing body of evidence suggests that exposure to natural environments can improve attention and decrease stress in children. Advising outdoor play in nature is a practical method for pediatric health care providers to address chronic conditions such as childhood obesity, as well as mental health; and one that is cost-effective and easily sustainable.” McCurdy and colleagues raise concerns that today's children may be the first generation to have shorter a lifespan than previous, noting children’s sedentary lifestyles are not only tied into childhood obesity and related diseases (diabetes and cardiovascular disease), but also linked to increased childhood asthma, sleep apnea, vitamin D de´Čüciency, ADHD and depression.

As our children spend less and less time outdoors, they become less and less connected to the world around them and our awareness, knowledge and understanding of the environments in which we live is not at a sufficient level for use to make informed and responsible decisions. In a compilation of ten years of survey data, the National Environmental Education Foundation found that the average American cannot pass a basic environmental knowledge test, scoring, on average only about three out of ten questions correct (NEEF, 2005). This survey was replicated in Kansas with the average Kansas adult scoring marginally better (3.3 out of 10 questions correct) than the national average. It is important to note that in this same survey, 98% of Kansas parents indicate they support having environmental education taught in schools (KACEE, 2001).

Benefits of Providing Children with Outdoor Experiential Activities and Environmental Education

It’s intuitive—many of us know the benefits of spending time out of doors because that was our experience growing up. We learned many valuable skills—observation/inference, team work, interdependence, independence and self-confidence, natural consequences and more. We learned science while digging in the dirt, playing in the pond or climbing in trees. The following are just some of the key benefits of providing children with outdoor experiences and learning that are supported by research:

Studying EE Creates Enthusiastic Students, Innovative Teacher-Leaders - EE offers opportunities for rich, hands-on, real world and relevant learning across the curriculum (Archie, 2003).

EE Helps Build Critical Thinking, and Relationship Skills - Environment-based education emphasizes specific critical thinking skills central to “good science”—questioning, investigating, forming hypotheses, interpreting data, analyzing, developing conclusions, and solving problems (Archie, 2003).

EE Instructional Strategies Help Foster Leadership Qualities - Environmental education emphasizes cooperative learning (i.e., working in teams or with partners), critical thinking and discussion, hands-on activities, and a focus on action strategies with real-world applications (NAAEE & NEETF, 2001). EE provides opportunities for students to develop and practice leadership skills such as:

  • Working in teams
  • Listening to and accepting diverse opinions
  • Solving real-world problems
  • Taking the long-term view
  • Promoting actions that serve the larger good
  • Connecting with the community
  • EE Schools Demonstrate Better Academic Performance across the Curriculum Schools that adopt environmental education as the central focus of their academic programs frequently demonstrate the following results (Liberman & Hoody, 1998; NEETF, 2000; Archie, 2003):
  • Reading, science, social studies, and mathematics scores improve.
  • Students develop the ability to transfer their knowledge from familiar to unfamiliar contexts.
  • Students “learn to do science” rather than “just learn about science.”
  • Classroom discipline problems decline.
  • All students have the opportunity to learn at a higher level.

Self Control/Self Discipline Benefits for Children with ADD/Inner City Youth - Taylor and her colleagues found that children with attention-deficit disorder (ADD) benefited from more exposure to nature –the greener a child’s everyday environment, the more manageable are the symptoms of ADD (Taylor, 2001). Taylor also observed that access to green spaces for play, and even having views of green settings, enhances peace, self-control, and self-discipline among inner-city youth, especially among girls.

Increased Focus/Improved Cognition - Wells observed that proximity to nature, access to views of nature, and daily exposure to natural settings increases the ability of children to focus and improves cognitive abilities. (Wells, 2000).

Health Benefits - At the school environment level Bell and Dyment observed that children who experience school grounds or play areas with diverse natural settings are more physically active, more aware of good nutrition, more creative, and more civil to one another. (Bell, 2006).

Development of Positive Social Skills - Play in diverse natural environments reduces or eliminates anti-social behavior such as violence, bullying, vandalism, and littering and reduces school absenteeism. (Coffey, 2001; Malone, 2003; Moore, 2000).

Conservation Benefits - Higher levels of environmental knowledge correlate significantly with a higher degree of pro-environment/conservation behavior. The more people know, the more likely they are to recycle, be energy efficient, conserve water, etc. (NEETF, 2005).

EE Related State Legislation and Executive Activities:

Because of the many benefits of outdoor experiential activities and environmental education, many states have proactively supported these opportunities for their youth, families and communities. The following provide a summary of these efforts at the state level:

Kansas Governor Issues Executive Order Creating Kansans for Children in Nature! 

Executive Order may be viewed at:


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  • Bell, Anne C.; and Janet E. Dyment. "Grounds for Action: Promoting Physical Activity through School Ground Greening in Canada." Evergreen. 2006.
  • Center for a Livable Future. Perspectives on Childhood Obesity Prevention:
  • Recommendations from Public Health Research and Practice. Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, Baltimore MD, 2007.
  • Cobb, E. The Ecology of Imagination in Childhood, New York, Columbia University Press. : 57-58. 1977.
  • Coffey, Ann. Transforming School Grounds, in Greening School Grounds: Creating Habitats for Learning, (eds) Grant, Tim and Littlejohn, Gail., Toronto: Green Teacher and Gabriola Island, BC: New Society Publishers. 2001.
  • Faber Taylor, A., Kuo, F.E. & Sullivan, W.C. “Coping with ADD: The surprising connection to green play settings.” Environment & Behavior, 33(1), 54-77. 2001.
  • Faber Taylor, A., Kuo, F.E. & Sullivan, W.C. “Views of Nature and Self-Discipline:
  • Evidence from Inner City Children,” Journal of Environmental Psychology, 22, 49-63. 2002.
  • Faber Taylor, A., Wiley, A., Kuo, F.E., & Sullivan, W.C. “Growing up in the inner city:
  • Green spaces as places to grow.” Environment and Behavior, 30(1), 3-27 1988.
  • Hofferth, S.L. & J.F. Sandberg. “Changes in American Children’s Time, 1981-1997.” In S.L. Hofferth & T.J. Owens (Eds.), Children at the Millennium: Where Have We Come From, Where Are We Going? (pp. 1-7). New York: JAI, 2001.
  • Hofferth, S.L. & S.C. Curtin. “Changes in Children’s Time”, 1997-2002/3: An Update, 2006.
  • Kaiser Family Foundation. New Study Finds Children Age Zero to Six Spend As Much Time With TV, Computers and Video Games As Playing Outside Available at:
  • (accessed April 14, 2008).
  • Kaiser Family Foundation (2010). Generation M2: Media in the lives of 8 to 18 year olds. Available at: (accessed October 27, 2010).
  • Kansas Association for Conservation and Environmental Education (2001). The Kansas environmental report cards. Available at:
  • Kuo, Frances E.; and Andrea Faber Taylor. "A Potential Natural Treatment for Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder: Evidence from a National Study." In American Journal of Public Health, Vol 94, No. 9, September 2004.
  • Liberman, Gerald. & Hoody, Linda. (1998). Closing the Achievement Gap: Using the Environmental as an Integrating Context For Learning. Science Wizards, Poway, CA.
  • Louv, Richard. Last Child in the Woods: Saving our Children from Nature Deficit Disorder. Algonquin Books. 2005.
  • Malone, Karen & Tranter, Paul. “Children's Environmental Learning and the Use, Design and Management of Schoolgrounds,” Youth and Environments, 13(2), Accessed from 2003.
  • Moore, Robin & Cosco, Nilda. “Developing an Earth-Bound Culture Through Design of Childhood Habitats, Natural Learning Initiative.” paper presented at Conference on People, Land, and Sustainability: A Global View of Community Gardening, University of Nottingham, UK, September 2000.
  • Moore, Robin. “Impact Nature: The Role of Playing and Learning Gardens on Children's Lives,” Journal of Therapeutic Horticulture, 8, 72-82. 1996.
  • Moore, R. & Wong, H. “Natural Learning: Rediscovering Nature's Way of Teaching.” Berkeley, CA MIG Communications. 1997.
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  • The National Environmental Education and Training Foundation. (2000, September). Environment-Students. Washington, DC: National Environmental Education and Training Foundation.
  • The National Environmental Education and Training Foundation. (2005). Environmental Literacy in America. Washington, DC: National Environmental Education and Training Foundation.
  • The North American Association for Environmental Education (NAAEE) and The National Environmental Education and Training Foundation (NEETF). (2001). Using Environment-Based Education to Advance Learning Skills and Character Development. Washington, DC: NAAEE and NEETF.
  • Taylor, Andrea Faber; Frances E. Kuo; and William C. Sullivan. “Coping with ADD: The Surprising Connection to Green Play Settings.” In Environment and Behavior, Vol. 33, No. 1, January 2001.
  • Taylor, Andrea Faber; Frances E. Kuo; and William C. Sullivan. "Views of Nature and Self- Discipline: Evidence from Inner City Children." Journal of Environmental Psychology, 21, 2001.
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  • Functioning." Environment and Behavior. Vol. 32, No. 6, 775-795. 2000.
  • Wells, Nancy M. & Evans, Gary W. “Nearby Nature: A Buffer of Life Stress Among Rural Children.” Environment and Behavior, 35(3), 311-330. 2003.