Children’s connections to nature prove to be lasting
Nature experiences have many long-term benefits to children and adults, including improving several aspects of human health, fostering the development of personal and social capabilities, improved test scores, self-discipline, and reduced behavioral problems. This study examined different mechanisms through which children and youth are exposed to nature and the extent to which different exposure mechanisms are associated with long-term benefits. Four mechanisms of exposing children to nature were examined: voluntary engagement (on one’s own and with friends); with family; through school-related programs; and through extracurricular organized programs such as churches and scout groups. Forest Service scientists assessed the effect of each of these exposure mechanisms on adult environmental citizenship and adult attitudinal and behavioral commitment to nature-based activities. Children’s voluntary engagement with nature emerged as the strongest predictor of a number of aspects of adulthood environmental citizenship and of behavioral and attitudinal commitments to nature-based activities. This finding suggests the importance of exposing children to nature in ways that have less structure and more opportunities for free play and free-choice learning. Exposure to nature through family activities significantly predicts adults’ tendency to continue to participate in nature-based activities, suggesting the need for multiple exposure pathways to achieve the many benefits of childhood exposure to nature.