Information: sustainability & nature

Information on the theory and practice of sustainability & nature – 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 share@muddyfaces.co.uk

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

Improving children’s access to nature starts with addressing inequality

‘Barriers to outside play particularly affect children from low income and BAME households. Can education help?’ The Guardian, 1 March 2018.


Our Kids Can Save The Planet — If We Teach Them How

“It’s crucial that we work to create a more sustainable future for ourselves and upcoming generations, and the work must begin now ― not with young adults, but with young children. A large body of empirical social science work conducted over the last two decades supports this…. Fostering a child’s curiosity is simple…” Huffington Post, 8 February 2018.


The Nature Fix: overcoming barriers to the outdoors

The excuses we use to stay indoors, and strategies to overcome them – with some examples of organisations working to do this, particularly with women. REI Co-op (US), 6 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.


Nature Preschools and Kindergartens at Record Numbers in the U.S.

‘A new national survey of nature-based early childhood educators found that the number of nature preschools and forest kindergartens operating in the U.S. is at an all-time high.’ This article examines the findings. Natural Start Alliance (US), 17 November 2017.


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.


A Child’s Day In The Woods: Why Nature Play Is Important

Lovely blog post describing the joy of a day of playing in nature. We Are Wildness, c2017.


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.  This article considers why, especially for BAME households, what some organisations are doing to counteract it, and what parents can do themselves. The Guardian, 10 February 2016.


This Is Your Brain on Nature

When we get closer to nature—be it untouched wilderness or a backyard tree—we do our overstressed brains a favor.
Extensive, interesting article on why being in nature makes us feel better in all sorts of ways, citing lots of different research into many aspects of the subject. National Geographic, 2016.


Twenty amazing things that trees do

“Trees have a key role to play in rewilding Britain – to help restore nutrients to the soils and encourage the return of diverse flora and fauna. But there’s even more to trees than that bit of simple miracle working.” Rewilding Britain, 2 December 2015.


Nature’s Wall of Grief

Article on how spending prolonged time in nature may help us tap into long-held feelings of grief, and that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Huffpost (Au), 18 October 2015.


Ideas on Raising Environmentally-conscious Kids

“If You Are Wondering How You Can Teach Your Children To Be Earth-Conscious Individuals, Here Are Some Ideas That Can Be Helpful.” iheartintelligence.com, 4 March 2015.


Let Kids Run Wild in the Woods

What if everybody picked a flower? Maybe they’d care more about nature. Article looking at the concept of ‘leave no trace’ & how it can inhibit fun & bonding with nature, and the benefits of nature play areas – ‘set-aside areas where kids could go off trail, climb trees, collect specimens, and generally leave as much trace as they wanted with minimal adult supervision.’ Slate (US), 25 May 2014.


Benefits Of Exposing Your Children To Nature

Online article on why nature is the world’s best classroom – good for physical health, increased observation and communication skills, balanced mental and emotional development, and environmental sensitivity. On The New Age Parents, c2014.


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.


Earth Education: Permaculture for Kids

‘Sarah Smith, a geography teacher, describes the fun she has had since discovering Earth Education and explores its links with permaculture principles.’ Permaculture magazine, 29 May 2012.


Kids These Days: Why Is America’s Youth Staying Indoors?

Lack of access to, and interest in, nature keeps kids from experiencing the outdoors.
“There is a growing disparity between the time kids spend indoors wired to technology and the time they spend outside enjoying nature… only about 10 percent say they are spending time outdoors every day, according to a new nationwide poll from The Nature Conservancy.” Nature Conservancy (US), 2012.


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.


How the city hurts your brain

…And what you can do about it.
Article pulling together a variety of studies looking at the benefits of nature connection, and the risks of losing it. By Jonah Lehrer, in boston.com, 2 January 2009.


Healthy Planet, Healthy Children: designing nature into the daily spaces of childhood

‘This chapter draws on the latest research findings, which suggest that a healthy, therapeutic effect is experienced by children who are directly exposed to nature, and explores the roles of physical design in improving the quantity and quality of exposure to nature by integrating it into the built environment.’ Robin C Moore & Clare Cooper Marcus, in Biophilic design: the theory science and practice of bringing buildings to life, 2008, on Green Schoolyard Network.


Building for Life: Designing & Understanding the Human-Nature Connection

‘This chapter explores this importance of childhood contact with nature, particularly for children’s emotional, intellectual, and evaluative development. We consider how children’s physical and mental well-being depends on the quality of their experience of the natural world. ‘ Stephen R. Kellert, Nature & Childhood Development, c2002, on Green Schoolyard Network.


Children and Nature : Psychological, Sociocultural, and Evolutionary Investigations

‘Scientific investigations and thought-provoking essays on children and nature… research from cognitive science, developmental psychology, ecology, education, environmental studies, evolutionary psychology, political science, primatology, psychiatry, and social psychology.’


Children And Nature Psychological, Sociocultural, And Evolutionary Investigations

Girls Who Looked Under Rocks

The Lives of Six Pioneering Naturalists
Portrays the youths and careers of six remarkable women whose curiosity about nature fuelled a passion to steadfastly overcome obstacles to careers in traditionally men-only occupations. These stories can be a starting point for issues of gender, science, and the environment. Available from Muddy Faces.


Girls Who Looked Under Rocks book cover

Learning with Nature, by M Robb, V Mew & A Richardson

A how-to guide to inspiring children through outdoor games and activities
Written by experienced Nature educators & Forest School practitioners this book provides comprehensive information for enriching childrens’ learning through nature. Suitable for groups aged 3-16. Available from Muddy Faces.


Nature and Young Children, by Ruth Wilson

Encouraging Creative Play and Learning in Natural Environments
‘How to set up indoor and outdoor nature play spaces as well as encouraging environmentally responsible attitudes, values and behaviour in your early childhood setting … a wealth of ideas on how to foster creative play and learning in nature-focused environments while also promoting positive connections with nature.’


cover of book - Nature And Young Children

Nurture through Nature by Claire Warden

‘Explores the connection that very young children have to nature … examines how to develop the learning benefits of connecting children to nature … Each chapter celebrates a natural element, such as mud, water and sand, and shows how these readily available, and in the most part free, resources can be used through all seasons.’ Available from Muddy Faces.


Nurture Through Nature book cover

Sharing Nature with Children, by Joseph Cornell

With his wealth of experience in nature education, Cornell’s Sharing Nature movement has expanded all over the globe. This book features new nature games, favourites from the field, and Cornell’s insightful commentary, significantly revised & expanded for its 20th anniversary. Available from Muddy Faces.


cover of Sharing Nature with Children by Joseph Cornell

An Explorer’s Guide to The Lost Words

This free guide by Eva John accompanies The Lost Words. It’s for anyone with an interest in nature, words and images who wants to explore further some of the ideas and creatures conjured up by Robert Macfarlane and Jackie Morris in their enchanting ‘spell book’. Also seasonal posters to download, info on how to run your own training sessions and other related resources – all free. John Muir Trust, 2018.


cover of the Explorers Guide To The Lost Words guide, with birds fluttering near a dandelion

The #NatureForAll Playbook: an Action Guide for Inspiring Love of Nature

Designed to inspire action, with strategies and ‘plays’ – simple nature connection activities – and case studies of organisations having a go. Hard to describe, this is worth taking a look at to kickstart or boost what you already do. From IUCN Commission on Education and Communication (CEC) and Canadian Parks Council (CPC), 2017 (pdf).


#NatureForAll Playbook cover

Woodland Trust guide to British trees

Identify, discover and learn about Britain’s native and common non-native trees in this comprehensive A-Z guide. Includes pictures and fun facts about their uses, folklore and threats.


What you need to know about birding with kids 

Sections on getting started, basic supplies for the beginning birder, bird watching at home, tips on backyard birding with kids, birding in the field, apps, and more. Back Road Ramblers (US), 29 March 2017.


Reading The Story Of Nature – The Art Of Tracking

Blog post that considers the meanings and philosophy of  tracking, as well as offering 6 Steps to Learning & Growing in the Art & Science of Tracking. We Are Wildness, 7 October 2016.


The Leave No Trace Seven Principles

‘Guidance to enjoy our natural world in a sustainable way that avoids human-created impacts… adapted so they can be applied in your backyard or your backcountry.’ Leave no Trace, c2012.


Creating Green Roofs for Invertebrates

A best practice guide. “This guidance is aimed at anyone who is considering installing or planning to install a biodiverse green roof. It specifically outlines how green roofs can support invertebrates, particularly those associated with wildlife-rich brownfield sites.” Includes a review of key research. Buglife, c2011 (pdf).


Creating Green Roofs For Invertebrates - report cover

Connection to nature questionnaire for 8–12 year olds

& Guide to using the Connection to Nature Index

“The CNI is a ‘trait’ measure which means it has been designed and tested for use in determining changes over a relatively long period of time rather than as the result of a single intervention or session. For example it could be used to see if children’s connection to nature had increased or decreased after taking part in a programme for 6 months but not to see if connection had changed after an afternoon session at a field centre or nature reserve.” From the RSPB, 2010.


A Parents’ Guide to Nature Play

‘Learn about what makes great nature play, why it is important, and how you can restore it to your children’s daily lives.’ Greenhearts (US), 2009 (pdf).

See also Nurturing Nature Play: Ten Tips for ParentsRisk and Reward in Nature Play, and Nature Play as an Everyday Joy of Childhood.


A Parents Guide To Nature Play - cover illustration of a child chasing a butterfly

Nature Clubs for Families toolkit

‘Inspiration, information, tips and resources for those who are – or who might be – interested in creating a Nature Club for Families.’ With a quick-start guide, case studies, checklists, downloadable forms and more. From the Children & Nature Network (US) (pdf).


Nature Clubs For Families Tool Kit

St Tiggywinkles Wildlife Advice Fact Sheets

Welfare advice and what to do if you find an injured animal, as well as info on IDs, habitats, handling, traits and young/breeding/life cycles, etc of native UK wildlife.
Includes: amphibians, badgers, bats, deer, foxes, hedgehogs, moles, mice, owls, red kites, reptiles and wild rabbits & hares.


Links

Our sustainability & nature links page signposts you to the main national bodies, key organisations, initiatives and websites in the world of sustainability, environment, nature & conservation outdoors.

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


Nature Connection & Nature Deficit Disorder

For information on connecting to nature, and nature deficit disorder, including links to books, reports, reviews and videos, go to our Health & Wellbeing information page.


Moved by Nature in Finland

Fun, meaningful, and health-enhancing physical activities for school children
The Moved by Nature Project took a group of 9-12-year-olds on 3 nature activity days over 3 different seasons. An analysis of the children’s views about what they most enjoyed found meaningful experiences in 3 areas: freedom, autonomy and adventure, inspiring learning experiences, and co-operation and connectedness with peers. LOtC, 3 July 2019.

  • Details on the aims & objectives, funding etc of the project here, from Metsähallitus 2 July 2019
  • 2 videos about the project can be found in the videos section below.

Nature Play

Nurturing Children and Strengthening Conservation through Connections to the Land
Part 1: A Primer on Nature Play and Its Importance – exploring the essential characteristics of nature play, its benefits and barriers. Part 2: Restoring Nature Play –  real actions to undertake including advice on creating nature play spaces and playscapes, creating understanding amongst stakeholders, developing & planning programmes, activities and more. The appendix includes a discussion on risk. Greenhearts (US), c2015 (pdf).


Nature Play report cover with illustration of two children climbing trees

Nature Play & Learning Places

Creating and managing places where children engage with nature
‘Offers a set of guidelines for those who create, manage or promote development of nature areas in the everyday environments of children, youth, and families, especially in urban/suburban communities. The goal is to attract kids and families outdoors to interact directly with nature.’ Robin C. Moore, National Wildlife Federation and Natural Learning Initiative, 2014, on Green Schoolyard Network.


Nature Play & Learning Spaces report cover

Friending Fresh Air

Connecting Kids to Nature in the Digital Age.
This report aims to arm parents with the information they need to understand how kids’ media habits can impact health, learning & social development, and how spending time outside can balance the drawbacks of screen time. It also provides tools to help families combine the best of both worlds— virtual & natural. National Wildlife Federation (US), 2013.


Friending Fresh Air Cover

State of nature

In 2013 the UK’s wildlife organisations joined forces to undertake a health check of nature in the UK and its Overseas Territories. This report presents their findings, with statistics on native flora, fauna and habitats. RSPB, 2013.


Good from Woods case studies

‘The Good from Woods research project (Plymouth University) explored how people are benefiting, personally and socially, from woodland activities in southwest England. Initiatives that deliver woodland activities recorded how participants feel about their experiences in order to build an evidence base.’ 15 case studies from a range of work, in various outdoor settings, with children, young people and adults with learning difficulties. c2011-2013.


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

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.


Children in the Outdoors: A literature review

‘An in-depth look at the current themes within health, outdoors and children’s research and highlights how these relate to understanding the links between children’s use of outdoors spaces and health outcomes.’ Dr. Sarah-Anne Muñoz, Sustainable Development Research Centre (no longer exists), 2009.


Children In The Outdoors Literature Review cover

Children & Nature Network research library

Making the Case for Children and Nature.
‘The Children & Nature Network curates and summarizes peer-reviewed scientific literature to help build the evidence base for advancing the children and nature movement.’ You can browse the library or sign up for their monthly Research Digest. Various dates & regularly updated.


Can your child’s phone bring them closer to nature?

Our five-year project will find out how apps and technology change children’s experiences and knowledge of the great outdoors. And we need your help! I will investigate how technology and social media impact on children’s and young people’s experiences of the natural world as part of a five-year project ‘Natural Technology.’ Runs from 2018 to 2022.’ Science Nordic, 10 January 2018.


Trees as affordances for connectedness to place

A model to facilitate children’s relationship with nature
‘Summary: Tree play can deepen connection to nature and afford opportunity for risky play.’ Study undertaken in Finland with children age 7-12. On Children & Nature Network (US), published online October 2017.


We Know Nature Makes Us Happier. Now Science Says It Makes Us Kinder Too

“New studies show being in nature may increase your willingness to be generous, trusting, and helpful toward others.” This article summarises a good selection of the reserach providing this evidence. YES Magazine (US), 12 March 2016.


Monitor of Engagement with the Natural Environment pilot study: visits to the natural environment by children

Results from a project to test a method of measuring the level of access to the natural environment by children in England. Natural England, 10 February 2016.


Concerns raised over number of children not engaging with nature

Article on a two-year study that finds more than 10% of children in England have not been to a natural environment in the past 12 months.
Children from low-income families and black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) households are markedly less likely than white children and those from higher income households to frequently visit urban or rural wild places, according to the survey conducted by Natural England. The Guardian, 10 February 2016.


How walking in nature changes the brain

‘Researchers conducted a study which asked randomly selected participants to spend 50 minutes walking in either a natural or urban setting, and to submit to a series of psychological assessments before and after the walk. ‘ Collective Evolution, 3 September 2015.


The benefits of nature experience: Improved affect and cognition

‘This study extends previous research by demonstrating additional benefits of nature experience on affect and cognition through assessments of anxiety, rumination, and a complex measure of working memory.’ ScienceDirect, 3 March 2015.


Nature and Health

The mental and physical benefits of physical activity in nature, with academic references. By Professor Jules Pretty OBE. julespretty.com, c2013.


Good from Woods research toolkit

‘Good from Woods is a community of researchers exploring and reporting on the health and wellbeing outcomes of spending time in the woods. The toolkit is designed to help you do rigorous research into whether your woodland activity has an impact on the health and wellbeing of participants.’ c2013.


Children & Nature Worldwide: An Exploration of Children’s Experiences of the Outdoors & Nature with Associated Risks and Benefits

‘Provides an evidence base for the importance of children’s and youth’s connections with nature, now and for the future. Evidence provided in this annotated bibliography of research relates to: 1) children’s experiences of the outdoors and nature … and 2) the benefits derived from children’s experiences of the outdoors and nature—both for their healthy development and the protection of the Earth.’ Children & Nature Network, 2012 (pdf).


Spending Time in Nature Makes People Feel More Alive, Study Shows

Round up of research demonstrating ‘ the importance of having access to parks and natural surroundings and of incorporating natural elements into our buildings through windows and indoor plants.’ University of Rochester (US), 3 June 2010.


Learning comes naturally for some

Children who play in ‘nature-inspired’ playgrounds have improved concentration compared with children who stay indoors, a study has shown. The Sydney Morning Herald (Australia), 24 January 2010.


Vitalizing effects of being outdoors and in nature

‘Five studies utilizing survey, experimental, and diary methods assessed the effects of being outdoors on subjective vitality … Being outdoors was associated with greater vitality, a relation that was mediated by the presence of natural elements.’ Journal of Environmental Psychology, 3 November 2009.


The Cognitive Benefits of Interacting With Nature

‘These experiments demonstrate the restorative value of nature as a vehicle to improve cognitive functioning ‘ and considers Attention restoration theory (ART). Sage Journals, 1 December 2008.


A ‘Dose of Nature’ for Attention Problems

‘Parents of children with attention deficit problems are always looking for new strategies to help their children cope. An interesting new study suggests that spending time in nature may help.’ Well, New York Times, 17 October 2008.


An In-depth Look at Outdoor Play: Why Children Need Nature

Summary of research on the benefits on children of spending time in nature, on health, development and learning. From New Jersey’s Afterschool Communities, NJSACC  (US), c2008 (pdf).


‘Wild’ Nature Play Before Age 11 Fosters Adult Environmentalism

“If you want your children to grow up to actively care about the environment, give them plenty of time to play in the “wild” before they’re 11 years old, suggests a new Cornell University study.” Science Daily (US), 13 March 2006.


Nature & the Life Course: Pathways from Childhood Nature Experiences to Adult Environmentalism

“This paper examines connections between childhood involvement with the natural environment and adult environmentalism from a life course perspective. ” JSTOR (US), 2006 (pdf).


Moved by Nature – school-children’s experiences of outdoor activities in nature

‘The Moved by Nature project (2017-2019) aimed at promoting health and well-being among children and young people by increasing physical activity in nature.’ This film discusses the findings. 25 June 2019. (5 mins)


Moved by Nature

‘The Moved by Nature project aims to promote the mobility of children and young people in the wild, as well as, improve their relationship with nature.’  This film shows 3 visits to nature over 3 different seasons, in Finland. 3 June 2019 (8 mins 55)


The Lost Words For Notts: A Tribute to Robert Macfarlane & Jackie Morris

This moving and inspirational video from children in Nottinghamshire inspired the emotional tweet from Robert MacFarlane, author of Lost Words, below. (4 mins 10)


Get hooked on nature: TED talk

‘Ben Klasky, CEO of IslandWood, a 255-acre outdoor learning center, proposes a free and natural remedy to the physical problems kids face: the Great Outdoors.’ Inspirational film on the benefits of getting children outdoors & using technology to help you. (12 min 38)


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.’ (12 min 12)


The Nature Fix – What Happens When You Spend Just 5 Minutes in Nature?

‘Go outside. Go often. Bring friends. Breathe. An intrepid investigation into nature’s restorative benefits…’ This is a trailer for a book, but still makes a nice neat introduction to the benefits of spending time in nature. (1 min 41)


The science of nature

‘Children and Grown ups both need nature – here’s the science about WHY! This is a clip from the great Project Wild Thing movie.’ (1 min 26)