Deliver Benefits to the Public

Partnership champions nature at children’s hospital

Group photo
Team of presentors at the Nature Champion Training workshop. The training workshop opened with an introduction to the Nature Explore program, a description of the different areas that make up a certified Nature Explore classroom, and background information and partnerships related to the project at Shands.USDA Forest Service photo.

FLORIDA – Nature boasts a myriad of mental and physical health benefits to children as well as adults. Obesity, hypertension, type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease are on the rise among children, in large part due to a lack of exposure to the outdoors. In response to this troubling trend, the National Environmental Education Foundation established the Children and Nature Initiative to build capacity among pediatric health care providers to be leaders in “prescribing nature” as a method for living a healthier lifestyle.

On August 22, NEEF partnered with the USDA Forest Service and UF Health Shands Children’s Hospital in Gainesville, Florida, to host a Nature Champion Training in anticipation of the long-awaited Nature Explore Classroom currently under construction at Shands. This outdoor classroom, the UF Health Children’s Healing Garden, is a nature-based play and learning space designed to promote health by creating nature connections for patients, children, families and medical staff. This project is funded by the Washington Office, Region 8 and private donors. The Forest Service has a national-level partnership with the Dimensions Educational Research Foundation related to the Nature Explore program and has sponsored the building of Nature Explore classrooms at strategic locations around the country.

Shands will be the second healthcare facility and the first hospital in the Certified Nature Explore Classroom network. It follows the success of the installation of a Nature Explore classroom at the Lone Star Health Clinic in Conroe, Texas, also in partnership with the Forest Service. In addition to all of the benefits that the children will receive from playing in the Nature Explore Classroom, partnering with these medical facilities will allow the Forest Service to expand research on the impact of nature play on health and other related topics. As a part of the Nature Champion Training program, over 60 UF Health physicians, nurse practitioners, physician assistants, mental health practitioners, department chairs and other medical staff were trained on techniques that will motivate and encourage patient exploration of the Shands garden, which will hopefully inspire further natural experiences including visits to nearby forests and parks.

The training workshop opened with an introduction to the Nature Explore program, a description of the different areas that make up a certified Nature Explore classroom, and background information and partnerships related to the project at Shands.The workshop then provided attendees with information about NEEF’s areas of focus and specifics about the Nature Champion training goal and objectives. Then detailed reviews of the burden of nature deficiency as well as the physical and mental health benefits patients can receive from nature and outdoor activities were addressed. This was followed by discussions on prescribing nature and specific interventions for health service providers, including tips for addressing common barriers to nature access.

The UF Health Children’s Healing Garden is scheduled to open in the spring of 2020. Once open, the garden will feature nature art and building areas, gathering areas, pollinator and vegetable gardens, walking paths, a music and movement area, an open area, a messy materials area and a wheeled toy area. UF Health hopes that the Healing Garden will uplift patients and their families, providing them with stress relief, movement and hope during the treatment process.

For more information about the UF Health Shands Children’s Hospital project contact Annie Hermansen-Baez, annie.hermansen@usda.gov, 352-376-3271 or contact Vernessa Perry, vperry@neefusa.org for more information on NEEF’s Nature Champion training.