Information: health & wellbeing

Information on the theory and practice of health & wellbeing outdoors – from case studies to policies, examples of forms, documents & handouts, research and articles, and much more to support your theoretical explorations into the outdoors.

With your help the information section can grow – can you recommend sample policies, signpost articles or videos, share documents or resources? Please contribute so we can build the knowledge and good practice of all people working with groups outdoors. Contact us via

Reports, articles, research etc are, as much as possible, arranged in chronological order, most recent at the top.

Health & Wellbeing

Coralie Hopwood, sitting on autumn leaves, with rope in her handsCoralie Hopwood has been active in the field of health and wellbeing in the outdoors for over ten years through Care Farming, community mental health, community growing projects, Forest Schools, public health and development, and training delivery to outdoor practitioners.

Coralie is currently the England Inclusion Manager for the John Muir Award, the main engagement initiative of the John Muir Trust.

Coralie shares some thoughts on the huge potential of the outdoor environment to support the health and wellbeing of participants here

The outdoors as a therapeutic environment

The world outside our built environment is rich in many ways, but the principle one for me is the sense of freedom it gives us. Our daily lives now are incredibly busy, not just with functional tasks that need completing, but with the incessant pressures of online communication, social media, news coming through to us from every possible media source and the general feeling that we should be doing more than we are and that we are probably not good enough! These constant sources of anxiety impact on people of all backgrounds, ages and circumstances and in different ways, and are increasingly hard to switch off from.

That is until we go outside.

Being in the natural world immediately fills our heads with a myriad of other sensory distractions and, if we engage with them, gives us a way to quiet those worrying thoughts and feelings and connect with the now, to discover ourselves and our surroundings in the moment.

It doesn’t really matter where we go, whether it’s a remote mountain top or the corner of a local park, in places where we can connect to the natural world we can reconnect with ourselves, slow down, take time to stop, breath and clear the muddle.  Whether it’s a moment of mindfulness at lunchtime or a weekly course of bushcraft skills to build confidence and resilience, the variety of ways in which we can benefit from time spent in natural environments is enormous.

The Five Ways to Wellbeing

Public Health England promotes five key actions that everybody can undertake to make small but noticeable improvements in their own wellbeing. The outdoors is the perfect place to have a go at bringing these actions into our everyday lives and to steady ourselves against the pressures of a busy, bustling world.

Give: Are you planning a conservation activity? So you’re giving to the environment and maybe a local community. Are you offering your time to support a group? Are you working with others and helping people to learn something new? The feeling of making a contribution and giving to others has a huge impact on our self-esteem and feelings of belonging.

Connect: Connect to a natural environment by spending time there, becoming familiar with the wildlife, taking part in practical tasks. Connect with others by seeing each other in a new place, talking and walking, removing the walls and restrictions that come from being indoors. Have freer conversations and make new friendships, or just take existing ones outside for a new perspective on things.

Take Notice: How often do we just stop & take the time to look, listen, smell, feel the breeze around us, enjoy the warmth of the sun, enjoy the power & life-giving force of the rain? Being outside gives us the permission we need to ignore our screens & re-engage with the living things all around us.

Be Active: There are very few outdoor activities that don’t also involve physical activity. Whether that’s getting to a place, taking part in physical tasks, practical conservation work, taking part in sports and games or even creating dance and theatre pieces on outdoor stages. There is a natural environment for all physical abilities and the urge to explore can give us the motivation to move a little more than we might otherwise do.

Learn: Where to start! The outdoors is a classroom all of its own and the possibilities for learning are endless. Find out more about the fauna and flora around you or investigate the social heritage of your place and discover ancient landmarks or spots of historical significance. Or simply learn from one another, share stories, share skills, learn a craft, learn about yourself in a space which gives you the freedom to do so.

Where’s the proof?

There has been significant research on the benefits of the natural environment for health and wellbeing with a growing body of evidence showing the numerous and varied benefits for people of outdoor activity in the natural environment. A good place to start your search is Natural England’s Access to Evidence hub, with a focus on Health and the Natural Environment.

(also check out the research, reports & articles tabs on this page for lots more evidence!)

As John Muir, the famous naturalist and pioneer of modern day conservation, wrote:

“Climb the mountains and get their good tidings. Nature’s peace will flow into you as sunshine flows into trees. The winds will blow their own freshness into you, and the storms their energy, while cares will drop off like autumn leaves.”

See also our access & diversity links page.

Mya-Rose Craig: ‘Young people need to see someone like them who is into nature’

‘The 18-year-old birder and environmentalist on improving diversity in her field and how the pandemic has affected the natural world.’ The Guardian, 7 July 2020.

Black Girls Hike – so why do we feel so unwelcome walking outdoors?

A segment on on why BAME people feel unwelcome in the countryside, on BBC’s Countryfile programme, caused outrage in some circles. This article by Black Girls Hike founder Rhiane Fatinikun, looks at why. Metro, 1 July 2020.

The joys and challenges of exploring nature while black

3 projects created to support black people to access nature are asked ‘How can green spaces become more inclusive?’ and ‘What strategies and projects might make people of color (sic) more comfortable being outdoor explorers?’ Grist (US), 10 June 2020.

Black Birders Call Out Racism, Say Nature Should Be for Everyone

‘Co-organizers of the first Black Birders Week talk about the joy of the natural world and the work outdoor-focused groups need to do to reduce racism and promote inclusion.’ Scientific American (US), 5 June 2020.

Forest School Perspectives: Making Space for Diversity in Practice

‘So how we “do” Forest School is different depending on where we are. Because the Land and the stories embedded within, and inspired by, our places are different. Our cultures are different… And so our perspectives are different too.’ FSA, 26 May 2020.

‘I feel I’ve come home’: can forest schools help heal refugee children?

‘They have a middle-class reputation, but one outdoor school near Nottingham [Wildthings] is reconnecting disadvantaged 10-year-olds with nature and a sense of freedom’.  The Guardian, 9 May 2020.

Outdoor Afro: stories

Inspirational stories and media coverage about using and being represented in the outdoors, from the US network that “celebrates and inspires Black connections and leadership in nature. ” Outdoor Afro.

How do we Change a Whole Sector? Colonialism in Conservation Nature is the cause of Institutionalised Racism

“Our communities love wildlife, nature and the planet as much as yours. So why is it that I am outdoors in Somerset and am the only person enjoying nature that is not white?” By young environmentalist Mya-Rose Craig. CIEEM, 11 April 2019.

Meet the group helping black people reconnect with the natural world

Wild in the City “was created by Beth Collier, a nature-based psychotherapist who is dedicated to helping people of colour find their place in nature.” Metro, 7 February 2019.

All Children Need Nature: 12 Questions About Equity & Capacity

‘Not just the ones with parents who appreciate nature. Not only those of a certain economic class or culture or gender or sexual identity or set of abilities. Every child.’ Richard Louv explores how children and their families in poor communities, are affected by the absence of nature. Children & Nature Network (US), 16 January 2018.

Black hikers break the ‘green ceiling’ and clear a path for nature enthusiasts

“African Americans make up just 7% of people venturing to national parks while white visitors make up 78% – but Outdoor Afro is training leaders to change that.” The Guardian, 23 April 2016.

Black Folks And Nature

‘There’s a mountain of statistics that suggest Black Americans don’t go out in nature as much as people of other ethnicities. But one Bay Area organization is attempting to raise those numbers. It’s called Outdoor Afro … leading groups on hikes, fishing excursions, and camping trips.’ KALW local public radio (US), 2014.

See also our access & diversity links page.

BEN Black Environment Network

Works to enable full ethnic participation in the built and natural environment. Wide range of publications and resources on Ethnic Environmental Participation and more to download for free. [project may no longer be active but a very useful reference]

BirdGirlUK & Black2Nature

“A blog by a young birder, birdwatcher, twitcher, naturalist, environmentalist & writer about birds, wildlife, nature, conservation & ringing.” Mya-Rose Craig is a young British Bangladeshi who also created the organisation Black2Nature: ‘Delivering equal access to nature to the hugely under-represented VME demographic’ including organising nature camps.

Black Girls Hike UK

Providing a safe space for Black women to explore the countryside with like minded individuals, with an emphasis on well-being and sisterhood. FB page. Links to media coverage.

Black Nature Narratives podcast

‘Offers black perspectives on issues relating to the natural world and our relationship with nature … celebrate our love of nature and share inspiration from black leaders within conservation, ecology, outdoor education and environmental justice.’ Hosted by Beth Collier of Wild in the City. 

Facing Colonization in our Work with the Land & Building our Understanding of Indigenous Perspectives

‘There is growing awareness both in academic literature and in the Environmental Education and nature-based field in general to think more critically about how we relate to nature/the land and, in particular, around what perspectives and stories we leave out.’ Forest Schooled, (Canada), 1 May 2019.

Writing an Equality, Diversity and Inclusion Policy and Action Plan for your Forest School

“Gets you thinking about what you can be doing in your setting to work towards social justice changes.” Why do we need a policy, what does inequality look like? What should be in a policy & how to write one + templates & useful links.  Muddy Puddle Club, 19 June 2020.

Examples of diversity & inclusion policies:

Walk Tall and Proud in the Trees

Nature Workshops Young Carers project, Cornwall. ‘Investigating the wellbeing impacts of Nature Workshops’ project ‘Walk Tall and Proud in the Trees’ which aimed to improve the self esteem and well being of the young people whose lives are dominated by caring for their sick relatives.’ Part of the Good From Woods Project, c2010.

Wild in the City

‘aim to help facilitate the development of positive relationships in and with nature … We specialise in supporting people who are unfamiliar with spending time in natural settings and those who have an insecure attachment to nature, working with people relationally to help them feel comfortable in green spaces and to see spending time in nature as a healthy lifestyle choice.’ Nature Connectors programme for people of colour in nature.

Wild Things

‘Based in Nottinghamshire & Derbyshire, we focus particularly on working with groups of children and young people who have experienced disadvantage in their lives and who would not otherwise have access to spending time in nature – with all the social, emotional and educational benefits that this can bring.’ Specific project for young refugees.

Challenging Behaviour – A balanced brain means a pro social mind

Jon Cree explores what is a ‘balanced brain’, and how Forest School can help bring the brain into balance and the child regulate their behaviour. Circle of Life Rediscovery Blog, 27 March 2019.

Visual Impairment and the Importance of Nature

‘A recent study by Dr Sarah Bell explores the various ways ‘nature’ feature in the lives of people with visual impairment. The Sensing Nature study delves into the important role nature experiences therefore have on childhood. Here we share Dr Sarah Bell’s latest research findings.’ Outdoor Classroom Day, 5 September 2018

Outdoor Play Equipment For Children With Sensory Processing Disorder

Starting with a definition, its effects, and how schools can help children with SPD, the benefits of the outdoors on this group is followed by a list including mud kitchens, water & sand play, and a magnifying glass. Pentagon, 26 June 2018.

Nature is the best way to nurture pupils with special educational needs

‘Outdoor education doesn’t just engage students with complex needs in the curriculum, it teaches life skills too.’ The Guardian, 1 May 2016.

Kids with autism benefit from outdoor classroom

‘Teachers say daily time outside is changing the way young students — including those with special needs — learn and behave.’ Looking at the benefits of outdoor play & connecting to nature, in a variety of different settings across Canada, with children with a range of needs. Toronto Star, 5 July 2013.

Could Exposure to Everyday Green Spaces Help Treat ADHD?

Evidence from Children’s Play Settings. ‘This study examined whether routine exposures to greenspace, experienced through children’s everyday play settings, might yield ongoing reductions in ADHD symptoms.’ Wiley Online Library, 4 August 2011.

Ask project: Sensory Trust

Ask was a UK-Japan initiative involving disabled children in the planning and evaluation of public outdoor space, to help designers create outdoor environments where all children can play and learn together. This page links to further reports and conference summaries. 2008.

ASK Sensory Trust Report

A Potential Natural Treatment for Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder:

Evidence From a National Study. “The findings outlined … suggest that common after-school and weekend activities conducted in relatively natural outdoor environments may be widely effective in reducing ADHD symptoms.” Frances E. Kuo, PhD and Andrea Faber Taylor, PhD, US National Library of Medicine, September 2004.

How Outdoor Play Can Be Beneficial for Children with Special Educational Needs

‘Exploring the world outdoors can help children with SEN to overcome challenges & learn new skills, building their resilience, and boosting their self-confidence. And this in turn has a hugely positive impact on their mental health. ‘ Pre-School Learning Alliance (no date).

Is being barefoot in the early years catching on?

Prof Jan White celebrates the growing trend of going barefoot, and looks at the qualities and benefits for small children of an outdoor environment which allows it. Early Childhood Outdoors (ECO), 2019.

Return to old habits as babies encouraged to sleep outside in fresh air

Parents & nurseries influenced by the Forest School approach are leaving their children outside to sleep. “The health benefits of children just being outdoors & physically active is enormous & there is no evidence that any harm occurs provided babies are well-wrapped and not cold.” The Telegraph, 3 February 2018.

Forest Bathing Connects Us to Nature and Better Health

What is forest bathing, how does it reduce stress, and how do you do it? Outdoor Families Magazing, 30 January 2018.

Well-being in the Woods

Excellent report from Jon Cree – it summarises the Forest School Association 2017 conference, but also asks the question ‘ What does Forest School have to contribute to health and well-being?’ and considers Jules Pretty’s three types of engagement to increase regular attentiveness and immersion – Nature engagement; Social engagement; and Craft engagement. Autumn 2017.

Four Scientific Reasons Why Kids Should Be Outdoors

Looking at four key areas of benefit – movement development, eyesight, skin health and respect for the environment. Outdoor Project, 9 January 2017.

Green space, mental wellbeing and sustainable communities

Looking at the wealth of evidence of how the public’s health can be improved by increasing access to green and blue space and improving the quality of our natural environment. Public Health Matters, 9 November 2016.

Children need microbes — not antibiotics — to develop immunity, scientists say

Interview with Marie-Claire Arrieta, co-author of the book Let Them Eat Dirt: Saving Our Children from an Oversanitized World. The Star (Canada), 20 October 2016.

NHS should spend millions on nature-for-health plan, say wildlife groups

‘NHS England should spend millions of pounds on using nature to prevent illness & help people recover from health problems … part of a wider plan put forward by the RSPB, National Trust & 24 other groups on how the government should protect and restore UK flora & fauna.’ The Guardian, 13 October 2015.

The Nature Cure

Why some doctors are writing prescriptions for time outdoors. Considering the growing field of ecotherapy and the benefits of spending time outdoors, with references to some significant research studies, and Richard Louv’s Last Child in the Woods. The Atlantic, October 2015.

Mud pies and green spaces – why children do better when they can get outdoors

‘It seems that research across many areas and disciplines now needs to be combined to fully understand the green uplift effect in many aspects of education, health, development and well-being, particularly for young people.’ The Conversation, 15 June 2015.

Did you know?

A collection of stats on the benefits of physical activity for children, from the Outdoor Classroom Project, c2015.

Children Must Engage in Active Play for Optimal Brain Function

“Children must engage in active play for optimal brain function… A new study shows the brain-body connection is stronger than many people realized.” Guardian Liberty Voice, 30 September 2014.

Nature Bullies: A conservation biologist’s perspective on children in nature

“I know in my heart of hearts that if we put a wall between kids and nature, we will not have another generation of conservation biologists or environmental champions.” Children & Nature Network, 22 May 2012.

Barefoot Babies

‘How keeping little feet in the buff encourages a strong foundation for optimal brain and nervous system development.’ Chiropractor Kacie Flegal, in Natural Child Magazine (US), c2008.

Why kids should go barefoot more (and probably adults, too)

Nice long article about the health and developmental benefits of going barefoot, with references to research. Washington Post (US), 29 February, 2006.

Wild Child: 33 Evergreen Benefits of Outdoor Play

‘A collection of quotes & research on nature’s role in child development.’ Inspirational infographic on the benefits of nature on health and wellbeing. AAA State of Play (US).

Screenshot of Wild Child Infographic

Going to the loo outdoors

A selection of articles & videos on peeing and pooing outside:

Composting Toilets different types & how to build your own. From SWCAA
How to Go to the Bathroom in the Woods from WikiHow
How to Poop in the Woods from A Mountain Top High
Outdoor Toilet from Back-packing Light
Going to Bathroom in the Woods – video from Monkey See, 16 June 2009
Going in the Great Outdoors from Walk Scotland
Going To The Toilet In The Woods from Bushcraft blog, 20 April 2012.

Nurture through Nature by Claire Warden

Exploring the connection that very young children have to nature. Each chapter celebrates a natural element, such as mud. Practical ideas to develop an outdoor area for children under three and how to respond to their motivations to create a natural environment full of awe and wonder. Available from Muddy Faces.

Outdoor Safety Resource &
Avoid Dehydration When Spending Time Outdoors

Guide covering poisonous plants, animals and sun protection, and tips on recognising & avoiding dehydration. Both from AAA State of Play (US).

Cold Weather Safety

Tips to keep children safe, healthy, and warm in the winter, from National Center on Early Childhood Health and Wellness (US) (pdf).

front page of Cold Weather Safety document

Dressing for the outdoors: parents’ information pack

This free download created here at Muddy Faces is a really useful resource for any outdoor setting to share with parents/carers. Includes • packing list for a bag to bring to the setting/outdoors bag • how to pack clothes • notes on layering • extremities & footwear • dressing for the sun • how to get dressed ready for the outdoors (pdf).

Dressing For The Outdoors Pack Cover

Outdoor clothing buying guide

Free to download guide developed by Muddy Faces to help practitioners purchase effective outdoor clothing on a range of different budgets whilst maintaining the emphasis on supporting free play outdoors. Contents include • budget • use • quantities & other needs of group • qualities to consider • buying suggestions (pdf).

Outdoor Clothing Buying Guide Cover

Outdoor clothing: practitioners guide

A free download created by us here at Muddy Faces to help practitioners develop an understanding of the importance of effective outdoor clothing, especially in our often damp and cold climate. Contents include • outdoor clothing explained – why layers are important • protecting the extremities • getting ready – how to efficiently get your group ready to go outside (pdf).

Outdoor Clothing Guide cover

Waterproof clothing care advice

Free to download guide from Muddy Faces. Waterproof clothing should last for a long time, giving good value for money, but you can very quickly reduce its effectiveness – this guide explains the qualities of waterproofs and how to clean, care for and store them correctly (pdf).

Waterproof Clothing Care Advice cover

How waterproof is the clothing?

For fabric to be considered waterproof, it must resist the pressure of a column of water 2000 mm tall. The level of resistance is called the hydrostatic head. The higher the hydrostatic head, the more waterproof the material. This is explained in more detail on our website.

We have added a waterproof rating symbol to our waterproof clothing; 4 drops is extremely waterproof down to 1 drop which is water resistant.

At Muddy Faces we always advocate quality, waterproof clothing to support sustained outdoor play and learning.


raindrop guide for waterproofing


Our health & wellbeing links page signposts you to the main national bodies, key organisations, initiatives and websites in the world of physical, mental and emotional health and the benefits to wellbeing of spending time outdoors.

Have a browse – there are tons of links to loads of interesting, important & inspiring organisations!

Sections include:

Access & disability
Connecting to nature
Creativity & self expression
Holistic health
Mental health & emotional well-being
Physical health
Public & government bodies
Sensory experiences
Therapy outdoors
Welfare, care, H&S & child protection

Mood enhancer: go down to the woods today

‘Spending more time ‘forest bathing’ can have a positive effect on depression.’ A look at research and a personal experience of the effects of woods on wellbeing. The Guardian, 25 October 2015.

How Walking in Nature Prevents Depression

A study finds that wild environments boost well-being by reducing obsessive, negative thoughts. The Atlantic, 30 June 2015

Gardening as a therapeutic intervention in mental health

This article describes why one low-secure unit chose to initiate a horticultural therapy project and organise it as a ‘workers’ cooperative’.The therapeutic benefits of gardening are explored, particularly focusing on the social benefits. The article also discusses the issue of hope, which is an intrinsic requirement in gardening. Nursing Times, 11 November 2008.

Natural Thinking

Investigating the links between the Natural Environment, Biodiversity and Mental Health.
Presents evidence that suggests a positive effect from contact with nature and green space on our mental health, exploring the three main hypotheses that try to explain this positive effect – biophilia, attention restoration theory, and psycho-physiological stress recovery theory. Dr William Bird, for the RSPB, June 2007.

Noticing Nature

What are the essential ingredients for a positive connection to nature? Research with children and adults looking at: factors associated with proactively doing things to help nature; significance of ‘tuning in’, noticing or paying attention to nature; how these benefit wellbeing. National Trust (pdf), summary of key findings here, February 2020.

cover of the Noticing Nature report

Inspired by Richard Louv’s work on Nature Deficit Disorder, Dr Zarr is the founder and medical director of Park Rx America, a nonprofit that encourages doctors to prescribe parks, based on the expanding scientific literature that shows that spending time outdoors is good for physical and mental health. New York Times (US), 16 July 2018.

Re-Wild Your Child!

Opinion piece, celebrating Earth Day, Richard Louv’s Nature Deficit theory, Forest Schools and arguing ‘for “green time” over “screen time.”’ JSTOR Daily, 17 April 2018.

Last Treehouse in the Woods

“In “Last Child in the Woods,” Richard Louv wrote about the criminalization of nature play. He wrote about a civic association that would spend much of their time & resources hunting through the forests in an effort to try to catch children in the act of building a treehouse. In the eyes of the association, the kids had to be stopped.” This article is written by one of those kids, now grown up. Children & Nature Network, 22 February 2018.

Building a Movement to Help Young Children Connect with Nature and Care for it

Looking at the early childhood environmental education movement and how to get more children to experience “the joy, excitement, and mystery of the world we live in.” Natural Start Alliance, October 2017.

Badger or Bulbasaur – have children lost touch with nature?

Studies show that children are better at identifying Pokémon characters than real animals and plants. Author Robert Macfarlane on his quest to reconnect young readers with the natural world, and writing his Lost Words book. The Guardian, 30 September 2017.

Raising a 21st Century “Wild Child”

Interview with US palaeontologist, museum curator and children’s TV Host Dr. Scott Sampson, about his book How to Raise A Wild Child, looking at the importance & benefits of connecting children to nature, keeping them interested as they get older, and some of the barriers. The Mother Company (US), 19 October 2015.

Are you suffering from nature deficiency disorder?

Not enough time outdoors leads kids to become disconnected, says naturalist. ‘Brian Keating, a naturalist who spent 30 years working with the Calgary Zoo, says children aren’t spending time in nature, and as a result, they are becoming disconnected from the world. Keating credits author Richard Louv for coining the phrase nature deficiency disorder…’ CBC News (Canada),  2 October 2015.

The Criminalization of Natural Play 

Article in which Richard Louv, author of Last Child in the Woods, discusses the “decades-long slide toward the criminalization of natural play” and suggests what could be on the agenda of a national or international Forum on Children, Nature and the Law. Children & Nature Network,April 2015.

The Impact of Children’s Connection to Nature

“This report presents findings on the impact of connection to nature from a survey of 775 children, using the child as the unit of analysis, rather than aggregated data. The results demonstrated that children who were more connected to nature had significantly higher English attainment, although this wasn’t repeated for Mathematics.
Further, the 1.5 Connection to Nature Index (CNI) level was found to be a significant threshold across other measures, with those children with a CNI of 1.5 or above having significantly higher health, life satisfaction, pro-environmental behaviours and pro-nature behaviours.” Report by the University of Derby for the RSPB, 2015.

Impact of Childrens Connection to Nature report cover

Bring Down The Barriers!

Five Causes of Nature-Deficit Disorder; Five Challenges for the New Nature Movement. Richard Louv, Children & Nature Network, 31 Aug 2013.

The Misdiagnosis: Rethinking ‘‘Nature-deficit Disorder’’

‘This study examines and critiques ‘‘nature-deficit disorder’’ (NDD), Richard Louv’s popular theory of how and why children are alienated from nature… I call on adults to rethink human-nature disconnectedness by returning to the psyche, digging deeper to the problem’s cultural roots, and using nontraditional communication practices such as emotional expression and non-naming.’ Elizabeth Dickinson, Journal of Environmental Communication, 2013 (pdf).

Connecting with nature

Finding out how connected to nature the UK’s children are.
Sections include • What does “connection to nature” mean? • Why does connection matter so much to children? • Saving nature – now and in the future • How do children connect? • The state of UK children’s connection to nature in 2013.
Also includes recommendations for policy change and Get measuring! a questionnaire for you to use to see how connected to nature your children are. RSPB, 2013.

Connecting With Nature Rspb report cover shot

If children lose contact with nature they won’t fight for it

George Monbiot considers our declining wildlife, Nature Deficit Disorder and what will happen it we don’t tackle it. The Guardian, 19 November 2012.

Benefits of Connecting Children with Nature

Why Naturalize Outdoor Learning Environments? ‘This InfoSheet discusses the benefits of connecting children to nature and presents examples of simple ways to naturalize outdoor learning environments in childcare centers.’ Natural Learning Initiative (US), January 2012 (pdf).

Natural Childhood

Executive summary: “This report presents compelling evidence that we as a nation, and especially our children, are exhibiting the symptoms of a modern phenomenon known as ‘Nature Deficit Disorder’. We look at what this disorder is costing us, why it’s proving so difficult to reverse, and gather current thinking on what we must do to eliminate it, before opening up the question to the nation for consideration.” By Stephen Moss, for the National Trust, 2012.

Natural Childhood Cover Shot

Children and nature

‘Sets out the findings of a review into the evidential support for claims about the benefits for children of experiences with nature.’ Tim Gill of Rethinking Childhood, November 2011.

Why does nature matter to children? What’s the evidence? Tim Gill explains his thinking, methods and learning from the above report.

Children and Nature report cover

Nature Deficit Disorder

Global Voices for Justice interviews Richard Louv, author of The Nature Principle, Last Child in the Woods, The Web of Life, and other books. Louv shares a hopeful message for every area of life from more productive workplaces, to better classroom learning and healing our nature-starved spirits.’ 26 June 2011. (12 min 12)

Effective approaches to connect children with nature

‘Based on a review of relevant research and literature… insights from research findings on the most effective approaches for engaging with different age groups. Finally, the paper reviews the role of participative, active arts education as a tool for facilitating and effectively connecting children and nature.’ Department of Conservation, New Zealand, 2011.

Why our children need to get outside and engage with nature

‘… a growing body of evidence is starting to show that it’s not so much what children know about nature that’s important, as what happens to them when they are in nature (and not just in it, but in it by themselves, without grownups)… when kids stop going out into the natural world to play, it can affect not just their development as individuals, but society as a whole.’ The Guardian, 16 August 2010.

Every Child Outdoors

Children need nature. Nature needs children.
“Draws together the findings from the wide range of research that has been carried out into the positive impacts that contact with nature has on children, as well as on the environment. It also explores some of the consequences of the loss of such experiences and, sadly, the increasingly used term of Nature Deficit Disorder to describe the phenomenon.”
Also Every Child Outdoors WalesRSPB, 2010.

Every Child Outdoors report cover

Last Child in the Woods – review

Review of the book in which Louv coins the term “nature deficit disorder”. The Guardian, 11 July 2009.

Last Child in the Woods, by Richard Louv

Saving our Children from Nature Deficit Disorder 
Influential work about the divide between children and the outdoors, and the importance of direct exposure to nature for healthy childhood development & for the physical & emotional health of children and adults. This new edition reflects the enormous changes that have taken place since the book was originally published. 2008. Available from Muddy Faces.

The Nature Connection Pyramid

Timely steps to creating meaningful time in nature. Available to download from The Nature Kids Institute, which also has a great videos and radio library. (not dated)

Nature Connection Pyramid infographic

Nature Deficit: What the Research Shows

Documenting the “nature deficit” concept that author Richard Louv writes about in his book Last Child in the Woods: Saving our Children from Nature Deficit Disorder. Referencing research-based indicators of the nature-deficit and research-based indicators of nature’s benefits to children. Early stats from American Trails, 2007.

Children’s play and leisure: promoting a balanced approach

Guidance from the Health & Safety Executive.
“In this statement, HSE makes clear that, as a regulator, it recognises the benefits of allowing children and young people of all ages and abilities to have challenging play opportunities.”

“Health and safety laws and regulations are sometimes presented as a reason why certain play and leisure activities undertaken by children and young people should be discouraged. Such decisions are often based on misunderstandings about what the law requires.

The HSE has worked with the Play Safety Forum to produce a joint high-level statement that gives clear messages tackling these misunderstandings.”

Health & Safety Executive, September 2012.

You’ll find research on the benefits to health & wellbeing of physical activity outdoors on the Sports & Adventure information page.

Natural Play Spaces Can Benefit Children’s Health, study finds

“Playgrounds that mimic the natural environment have physical and mental benefits for preschool children, according to a study … coauthored by professors at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville” (US). 9 July 2019.

Study reveals how Forest Schools can benefit children’s development

Forest Schools are a growing phenomenon in the UK, but what impact does getting children outside of the classroom have on their overall development? Researchers at Loughborough University hope to find out. Loughborough University news, 18 October 2017.

Three-quarters of UK children spend less time outdoors than prison inmates – survey

Article on a survey that found that time spent playing in parks, woods and fields has shrunk dramatically due to lack of green spaces, digital technology and parents’ fears. The Guardian, 25 March 2016.

Concerns raised over number of children not engaging with nature

Two-year study finds more than 10% of children in England have not been to a natural environment in the past 12 months. Includes ‘Five ways to engage children with nature’ section. The Guardian, 10 February 2016.

Combating Obesity in Head Start: Outdoor Play and Change in Children’s Body Mass Index

‘Outdoor play time at Head Start is associated with decreases in children’s BMI scores and, thus, may serve as an important means of preventing obesity. Head Start programs should consider establishing clear guidelines encouraging more outdoor time.’ NCBI (US), October 2015.

Green spaces and cognitive development in primary schoolchildren

‘This study, based on comprehensive characterization of outdoor surrounding greenness (at home, school, and during commuting) and repeated computerized cognitive tests in schoolchildren, found an improvement in cognitive development associated with surrounding greenness, particularly with greenness at schools.’ PNAS (US), 30 June 2015.

Kids whose time is less structured are better able to meet their own goals, says CU-Boulder study

‘Children who spend more time in less structured activities are better able to set their own goals and take actions to meet those goals without prodding from adults.  University of Colorado Boulder, 18 June 2014 (link to full report below).

Less-structured time in children’s daily lives predicts self-directed executive functioning

“These findings represent the first demonstration that time spent in a broad range of less-structured activities outside of formal schooling predicts goal-directed behaviors not explicitly specified by an adult, and that more time spent in structured activities predicts poorer such goal-directed behavior.” Fully referenced research presented on Frontiers, 17 June 2014.

Well-being benefits of play at Fort Apache, Torbay

Research focus: to find out more about any wellbeing benefits gained by the children and young people from their play in Fort Apache and which aspects facilitate this wellbeing. It also looked at how best to carry out ongoing action-research in an open and accessible play woodland site such as Fort Apache.’ Part of the Good From Woods Project, 2013.

Why our children need to get outside and engage with nature

Article on a survey that finds that more and more children today have less and less contact with the natural world, and this is having a huge impact on their health and development. The Guardian, 16 August 2010.

What does the research say about Outdoor Learning?

“Summaries of key findings from reviews of research and major studies in Outdoor Learning. Each review asks different questions about a different kinds of Outdoor Learning. The overall impact of these collections of research studies is impressive. They demonstrate what can be achieved through Outdoor Learning. The outdoors provides a wide array of opportunities for achieving a whole range of outcomes. Some outcomes require careful design and facilitation, whereas other outcomes simply arise from being outdoors – as is demonstrated in the first review below.” English Outdoor Council, c2010.

Children should be allowed to play in the dirt

“Children should be allowed to play in the dirt because being too clean can impair the skin’s ability to heal itself, new research suggests. Scientists have discovered that bacteria on the surface of the skin play an important role in combating inflammation when we get hurt.” The Telegraph, 23 November 2009.

Impact of nature and being outdoors on health and well being

‘A growing number of children no longer have opportunities for playing in nature and, as the following research studies show, this is not good for their health and well-being.’ Referenced summary of various research, 1995-2009. Centre for Confidence & Wellbeing.

Resurrecting Free Play in Young Children

Looking Beyond Fitness and Fatness to Attention, Affiliation, and Affect.
“Our purpose in this article is to demonstrate why play, and particularly active, unstructured, outdoor play, needs to be restored in children’s lives. We propose that efforts to increase physical activity in young children might be more successful if physical activity is promoted using different language—encouraging play—and if a different set of outcomes are emphasized—aspects of child well-being other than physical health.” The JAMA Network, January 2005.

Risk – articles & blogs

Infinite Playgrounds: risk

A brochure for a playground design company but has useful info on benefits of risk, good & bad risks, safety guidelines and risk assessments. Infinite Playgrounds (scroll down to ‘downloadable resources’).

school children hanging off ropes in a playground with text: RISK

What is Risky Play?

Informative article looking at risky play, unstructured play and listing 7 categories of risky play including play with height, speed, tools, rough & tumble, etc. Plus useful links & infographics. From Megan Zeni (Canada), December 2019.

The Guarantees of Risky Play

Thorough article quoting various research. “… keeping kids safe means letting them take risks. Many experts say that outdoor play, in fact, risky play, is a necessary element of childhood.” From Childhood by Nature (US), 6 May 2019.

21 Benefits Of Risky Play (With Examples)Examples Of Risky Play (25+ Ideas)

Two thorough & informative articles, with lots of examples. “Children that engage in risky play become more confident, happy, and more ‘well-rounded’. Good luck with the risky play!” From Early Impact, 2019.

Climb a tree and give three cheers for skinned knees!

Utah Becomes First State to Pass ‘Free-Range Parenting’ Law

“Utah lawmakers first took up the idea of legalizing ‘free-range parenting’ after several states began investigating parents for negligence when people reported their children outside without adult supervision”. Fatherly (US), 21 March 2018.

Life is fraught with danger. School playgrounds should be too

Opinion piece about the importance of risk in school playgrounds, from Tom Bennett, teacher & independent adviser to the Department for Education. The Guardian, 14 March 2018.

Do riskier playgrounds make children more resilient?

Arguing that introducing element of risk to playgrounds helps make children more resilient. CTV News (Canada), 12 March 2018.

Playgrounds become more dangerous, to encourage youngsters to take risks

‘Children’s playgrounds are becoming more dangerous, to encourage youngsters to take risks, following decades of safety-first policies.’ This article cites some examples of ‘intentionally provided’ risk. The Telegraph, 11 March 2018.

In Britain’s Playgrounds, ‘Bringing in Risk’ to Build Resilience

Excellent extended article looking at the positives of risky play, projects that are re-introducing risk into playgrounds in the UK, and the rise and fall of protecting children from risk.  New York Times, 10 March 2018.

Why kids need to climb trees

‘A London council’s proposal to fine kids £500 for climbing trees sparks debate over children’s rights to freedom of movement and why adults think they can block it’ – also considers risk and helicopter parenting. Treehugger, 21 February 2018.

Introduce risky play into your kid’s life

‘Parents are told kids need an element of risk, but how does one actually go about doing that?’ Encouraging article with ‘a list of practical suggestions for adding elements of risk to play,’ sectioned into starting out, getting more comfortable, and as they get older. Treehugger, 6 February 2018.

Can we stop treating kids like ‘delicate morons’?

Opinion piece: ‘Kids aren’t stupid, nor will they shatter, but most school playground rules treat them like they are.’ Treehugger, 18 January 2018.

Risky business: Standard opens door to new playground opportunities

‘Can there be such a thing as keeping children ‘too safe’? Absolutely – and councils shouldn’t be scared to play their part by introducing a little risk into playgrounds.’ IPWEA (Aus), 11 December 2017.

Parents, Say “Yes” to Kids Climbing Up the Slide: Here Are 7 Reasons Why

Building strength, promoting risky play, resolving conflict and more reasons why climbing up is just as good as sliding down. Mike Prochaska, 30 Seconds, November 2017.

If you don’t let children take risks, you are damaging them

Children must learn courage or they will always be afraid.
Blog post on helicopter parenting & the importance of risky play, referencing some interesting stats and reports. The Spectator, 28 October 2017.

No more ‘cotton wool kids’: New Standard gives councils license to provide risky playgrounds

‘It may seem contrary to conventional wisdom, but councils are being encouraged to introduce risk into their community playgrounds.’ IPWEA (Aus),  17 October 2017.

Why kids need risk, fear and excitement in play

Canadian researcher Mariana Brussoni discusses risky play and parents worries, citing useful research, and offers some advice for introducing risky play. The Conversation, 1 August 2017.

When you want to say ‘be careful’

‘Some ideas about what we might say instead of (or in addition to) “Be Careful!”, organized according to Ellen Sandseter’s 6 categories of risky play:’ Play with Great Heights, with Great Speeds, with Harmful Tools, near Dangerous Elements, Rough and Tumble Play, and Play where children can “disappear”/get lost. Child & Nature Alliance of Canada, 22 June 2017.

Coping with risk and danger should be part of curriculum – HSE chair

Dame Judith Hackitt says ‘excessively risk-averse’ culture in schools is stifling children’s readiness for the real world. The Guardian, 27 March 2016.

Dangers of risk-averse childhood

“The Care Inspectorate says being too cautious about what children can and cannot do can unnecessarily restrict their experiences, and has advised teachers that they should not compile time-consuming written risk assessments for everyday activities…” Leader in The Scotsman, 6 February 2016.

Blog post on a school in Toronto banning cartwheels at playtime, with wider thoughts on children and risk. The Globe and Mail (Canada), published 22 October 2015, updated 15 May 2018.

The biggest risk is keeping kids indoors

Looking at Canada’s ‘Position Statement on Active Outdoor Play’ which ‘uses hard facts to combat hyper-parents’ obsession with keeping kids indoors to keep them safe.’ Treehugger, 16 October 2015.

Risk is essential to childhood – as are scrapes, grazes, falls and panic

‘Children need to be exposed to risky play. For ‘helicopter parents’, this might be difficult – but kids need to learn to manage danger themselves.’ The Guardian, 14 October 2015.

A Vote in Favor of the Free Range Kids Movement – and How to Give It a Try

The advantages of unstructured, unsupervised play, and some tips for offering children some independence. Kids Outdoors, 12 May 2015.

Five ways to let a little more risk into your child’s day

(and why that’s a good thing)
Article about parenting that supports and encourages risky play, with 5 tips to doing it. Washington Post (US), 16 January 2015.

The risks of not letting children play outside

‘There’s growing evidence that unsupervised outdoor play is vital for children’s development and connection to nature. There’s also evidence that children today spend much less time outdoors than their parents did.’ SBS News (Aus), 5 October 2014.

The Overprotected Kid

A preoccupation with safety has stripped childhood of independence, risk taking, and discovery—without making it safer. A new kind of playground points to a better solution. Very good, lengthy article looking at The Land, an adventure playground in North Wales, risky play, the accidents and litigation that informed non-risk play policies, fear of danger, and more. The Atlantic, April 2014.

Why stopping children from climbing trees and playing in mud is creating a nation of ‘cotton wool kids’ 

‘The worrying trend emerges in a poll of 1000 UK mothers with children aged between 7 and 12, which also looks at its impact in a 2013 White Paper ‘Emotional Resilience among Children’.’ Mail Online, 29 July 2013.

But… Isn’t It Dangerous? Risk & Reward in Nature Play

Useful & referenced article looking at the concept of comparative risk, the importance of risk, and how nature play can play a part. Ecology (US), 17 July 2012

Playgrounds that rip up the safety rules

‘This post has a simple aim: to get you to rethink playground safety. Through a handful of images of playgrounds from around the world, I hope to encourage you to abandon any preconceived notions you may have about what a safe playground looks like.’ Rethinking Childhood, March 7, 2012.

Risk – reports, research & policies

See also our section on risk-benefit assessments, which includes information and sample templates/documents, on our mud page.

Risk-Benefit Assessment Creator

‘Writing your risk-benefit assessments no longer needs to be a long and tedious process. With this quick and easy risk assessment wizard you can generate professional, personalised risk-benefit assessments for any activity in just 6 steps – giving you more time to prepare exciting and inspiring activities.’ Free but requires newsletter sign-up. From Educate Outside (US).

Risk-Benefit Assessment for Outdoor Play: a Canadian Toolkit

‘…designed to help you take a balanced, thoughtful approach to risk and safety in children’s outdoor play … introductory material, forms and checklists, and resources that will increase your confidence in leading children as they play and learn outdoors.’ Outdoor Play Canada (78 page pdf). 2019.

report cover titled risk-benefit assesment for outdoor play: a canadian toolkit

A playworkers guide to risk

Providing a balanced approach to risk management in play settings by using the widely supported risk-benefit assessment approach …  explores the current legislation and support from a wide range of sources, as well as looking at some of the current playwork theory. Includes the ‘ABC model of dynamic risk-benefit assessment.’ Play Wales, May 2018.

girl in a blue fleece hammering a nail into a pallet

Ofsted’s Chief Inspector writes about safety culture in schools

‘Amanda Spielman encourages school leaders to make decisions based on their experienced judgement’ and criticises ‘an unnecessarily risk-averse culture which does nothing for children’s development and learning’., 6 August 2017.

Health & safety with Nest in the Woods

A good explanation of risk assessments as an integral part of Forest School, as learners develop their self-esteem and learn to manage risk for themselves. Section on the Language of Risk Assessment, and useful links.

Mud Kitchen risk-benefit assesments

This is a range of documents gathered together by Muddy Faces, created by different authors, offering an introduction to the concept of risk-benefit assessments, plus some templates for assessments, with a particular focus on mud kitchens, on our Mud page.

Outdoor Play

Take a risk, go play outside! ‘An online tool to help parents and caregivers gain the confidence to allow their kids to engage in more outdoor play.’ With sections on – What is Risky Play? and Why is Risky Play Important? Followed by a guided journey to put yourself in your child’s, and other parents, shoes, to build an action plan for change.

Outside Play Website

Risky outdoor play positively impacts children’s health: UBC study

New research from UBC and the Child & Family Research Institute at BC Children’s Hospital shows that risky outdoor play is not only good for children’s health but also encourages creativity, social skills and resilience. University of British Columbia News (Canada), 9 June 2015.

Position Statement on Active Outdoor Play (Canada)

‘A diverse, cross-sectorial group of partners, stakeholders and researchers, collaborated to develop an evidence-informed Position Statement on active outdoor play for children aged 3–12 years.’
It states “Access to active play in nature and outdoors—with its risks— is essential for healthy child development. We recommend increasing children’s opportunities for self-directed play outdoors in all settings—at home, at school, in child care, the community and nature.” International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, 8 June 2015.

What is the Relationship between Risky Outdoor Play and Health in Children? A Systematic Review

‘… the review revealed overall positive effects of risky outdoor play on a variety of health indicators and behaviours, most commonly physical activity, but also social health and behaviours, injuries, and aggression.’ International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, 2015.

Day-care children benefit from risk in play

Report from Queen Maud University College of Early Childhood Education in Norway believes day-care centres are becoming increasingly fearful about something going wrong. The author has written a book called ‘Outdoor Recreation & Outdoor Life in Day-Care Centres.’ ScienceNordic, 2 November 2013.

Managing Risk in Play Provision: Implementation guide

Shows how play providers can replace current risk assessment practice with an approach that fully takes into account the benefits to children and young people of challenging play experiences. The document’s overall approach will be useful for those who manage spaces and settings in which children play, and for those involved in designing and maintaining them. Play England, September 2013.

Managing Risk Report Cover

Children’s play and leisure: promoting a balanced approach

Statement from the government’s Health & Safety Executive (HSE), created with the Play Safety Forum, which includes key messages including: when planning and providing play opportunities, the goal is not to eliminate risk, but to weigh up the risks and benefits; those providing play opportunities should focus on controlling the real risks, while securing or increasing the benefits – not on the paperwork. September 2012.

Nothing Ventured… balancing risks and benefits in the outdoors

Aims to encourage readers to take a reasonable and proportionate approach to safety in outdoor and adventurous settings, and to reassure them that managing risks should not be a disincentive to organising activities. It is not a ‘how to guide’. Rather, at a time when many wonder whether society has gone too far in trying to keep children safe from all possible harm, it adds its voice to the call for a more balanced approach: an approach that accepts that a degree of risk – properly managed – is not only inevitable, but positively desirable. English Outdoor Council, c2010.

Nothing Ventured Cover

The 5 W’s of Sit Spots

What, why, who, when, where? From Seekers Wild (US).

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Mindfulness in Nature Activity with Children

Exploration of mindfulness in Forest School, and ‘Magic Spots’. Bee in the Woods, 3 October 2016.

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Sit Spots

The benefits of sit spots & ‘spending time outdoors sitting in quiet awareness’ and how to help children discover their joys. Wilderness Awareness School (US).

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Sit Spots – Engaging Students in Meaningful Learning Opportunities Outdoors

‘Sit Spots are used as a place where students can sit independently and connect with nature.’ Kindie Korner (Canada), 5 August 2015.

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Sit spot lessons from a squirrel

Blog post reflecting on the value of sit spots and how to get the most out of them. Feather and Frond (US), 4 January 2017.

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Start a “Sit Spot” practice to a happier you

Nice thorough article looking at What is a sit spot, where should it be, what does it need and what do you do there? In My Nature (Aus), 10 December 2016.

Also Make Your Sit Spot Practice Private and Intimate – how to tap into the benefits of a sit spot practice. 5 January 2017.

Developing the Vestibular System with Stramarsh Outdoor Nursery

Brilliant little film explaining and demonstrating an important concept and key component of outdoor play: what is the vestibular system? What does it do? Why do we need it & how do we help our kids develop theirs? Created by Jess @ Stramash Outdoor Nursery, September 2019. (1 min)

How a walk in the woods could do you good

The concept of “forest bathing” is becoming popular in the West, but it originates from Japan. It is the art of how trees can help you find health and happiness. Dr Qing Li, an expert in the field, has been looking at the science behind how trees can improve wellness through emitting essential oils into the environment. 25 April 2018. (2 mins 38)

5 dangerous things you should let your kids do

TED talk from Gever Tulley, founder of the Tinkering School, spelling out why a little danger is good for both kids and grownups. His list of five dangerous things includes playing with fire, owning a pocketknife and taking things apart. (9 mins 15)

NU Wild About Wellbeing

Short film about a woodland project for girls in Galashiels, Scotland, exploring the practical and emotional benefits of getting away from screens and into the outdoors. By Jann Barr for Nature Unlimited, 2017. (3 mins 21)