Why today's kids need Wild Time

Research shows that the benefits of a re-wilded free-range childhood are significant:

  • Improving their ability to judge and understand risk;

  • Increasing physical health through exercise;

  • Enhancing and maintaining mental health and positive well-being through exposure to the natural world;

  • Stimulating imagination and creativity through outdoor play and learning;

  • Improving communication skills and the ability to build and maintain relationships.

We believe these are critical for kids to thrive amid the pace and complexity of the 21st century.

This section is regularly updated and, like the network, constantly growing. If you can help, or would like to add a piece, or give us feedback, please share your comments below. 

The evidence section is divided into:

1. Research papers

2. Reports & policy documents

3. Books

4. General articles

5. Film and video


Find our collection of research papers on Google Drive:




1.1 Health and Wellbeing 

1.2 Cognitive Restoration / Emotional

1.3 Education and Development

1.4 Social and Community

1.5 Tech

1.6 Children’s mobilities /  Independence / Play

1.7 Eco-Literacy / Connection / Meaning 

1.1 Health and Wellbeing

1. Adventure isn’t just about ‘character building’ – it confers psychological health and wellbeing. Adventurous physical activity should be considered a mainstream intervention for positive mental health.
2. How and why green physical activity might influence health and wellbeing of different population groups. 
3. A review: taking part in activities to enhance nature makes people feel better (social contact, a sense of achievement, being in nature and a daily structure).
4. Exposure to nature makes people happy and could cut mental-health inequalities between the rich and poor.
5. Visits to outdoor green spaces of 30 minutes a week could reduce depression and high blood pressure. 
6. For children, green spaces are an important environmental influence on physical activity and emotional wellbeing.
7. Nature relatedness predicts how often people use local green space and how active they are.
8. Connecting families to nature may positively influence physical activity (i.e., active playtime) and healthy eating routines in children aged 2 to 4.
9. Recovery from mental ill-health is not an outcome of being in a particular place, but part of an ongoing process of relearning how to live in and as part of the environment.
10. To get people to be physically active in their local natural environments, you need to promote positive feelings towards nature and promote shared activities in nature. Childhood experiences also matter.
11. Living near trees is good for your health.
12. Access to green space reduces rich-poor divide in mental wellbeing.
13. Farm dirt is good for children’s health.
14. We know that nature is good for health. But exactly HOW that happens is difficult to say. This study describes a load of ‘pathways’ to connect nature and health. When they all work together, the overall effect is massive.
15. All green spaces are not the same. The type, quality and context of ‘green space’ matters re human health and wellbeing.
16. Psychological benefits of green exercise emerge during interactions with natural environments to enhance human health and well-being.
17. Trees save lives by reducing pollution.
18. Worldwide research on health benefits of natural environments, esp in urban environments: neurophysiology, green exercise, community gardens, sustainability, walkability, screen time, children.
19. UNICEF overview of child wellbeing in rich countries.
20. Overview of current theories and research into how natural environments provide health benefits.
21. Forest School offers enough physical exercise for health and wellbeing.
22. Children in the Outdoors – a good literature review.
23. Children living in greener neighbourhoods had lower BMI, probably because of physical activity or time spent outdoors.
24. Transforming Urban Spaces: the links between green spaces and health- a critical literature review.
25. Streets with a high tree density were positively associated with a lower prevalence of early childhood asthma in 4-5 year olds.
26. For girls, green space immediately outside the home can help them lead more effective, self-disciplined lives. For boys, perhaps more distant green spaces are equally important.
27. Looking through a window onto nature helps patients recover more quickly. 

1.2 Cognitive Restoration (Attention) / Emotional Restoration (Stress)

28. People who use mobile phones while walking among trees show attention overload. If you go on a walk, without gadgets, the prefrontal cortex recovers, which results in bursts in creativity, problem-solving, and feelings of well-being.
29. Children responded faster on an attention task after a nature walk than an urban walk.
30. A brief walk in nature stops brooding and negative thoughts. 
31. The more unstructured time children had while out of school, the better their executive functioning (cognitive skills that    support planning and decision-making, memory and academic achievement).
32. Walking in the forest may promote cardiovascular relaxation and reduce negative psychological symptoms. Being in nature    has a beneficial effect on stress, above and beyond what exercise alone might produce.
33. Short-term visits to urban nature areas relieve stress – urban woodland more so than urban parks.
34. Exposure to nature environments can help restore depleted emotional and cognitive resources. (Less so when you’re with      children!)
35. Information bombardment can lead to mental fatigue, overwhelm, and burnout, requiring “attention restoration” to get back  to a normal, healthy state. Nature does this.
36. Being in nature has a vitalising effect (boosts energy).
37. Forest school can help control anger in young people at risk
38. Children with Attention Deficits Concentrate Better after Walk in the Park. 
39. Preschool children benefit from restorative effects of outdoor spaces.
40. Walking in nature or viewing pictures of nature can improve directed-attention abilities.
41. Green outdoor settings reduce ADHD symptoms in children.
42. Nature could treat ADHD
43. Nearby nature: The more contact a child has with nature, the greater the decrease in stress.
44. One-third of the children reported using their favourite places for emotion-regulation.
45. Children have better attentional functioning after activities in greener settings.
46. The 'greener' a child’s play area, the less severe his or her attention deficit symptoms.

1.3 Education and Development

47. Pupils who do not excel particularly benefit from school and community gardens.
48. Nature walk-based teaching was as effective as classroom-based instruction. Students who did a nature walk-based lesson     had more positive attitudes toward the material.
49.  About the barriers re outdoor learning. We need to move from a culture of excuses to a model of encouragement. Educators    should view outdoor learning as a pedagogical and problem-solving exercise. 
50. How schools can tackle the challenges of embedding outdoor learning and integrating learning in the natural environment.
51. Connection to nature is also as important to children’s achievement in English as life satisfaction and attendance at school.
52. Climbing a tree can improve working memory by 50%.
53. Access to active play in nature and outdoors is essential for healthy child development. 
54. Mindful learning can promote connectedness to nature both implicitly and explicitly.
55. Non-formal learning could help to build character and close the attainment gap. 
56. How educational strategies could get people to like spiders (esp to stop parents passing on phobias).
57. With the focus on literacy and as baby apps proliferate, what of materials-based learning? Infant scientists thrive through free play, eager to grasp the world — literally.
58. Non-formal learning could help to build character and close the attainment gap 
59. Green spaces boost cognitive outcomes in children in part by protecting their brains from air pollutants. 
60. Tim Gill’s literature review. Spending time in nature is part of a ‘balanced diet’ of childhood experiences that promote 62.       children’s healthy development, well-being and positive environmental attitudes and values. Play is a good way to do this.
61. Understanding the diverse benefits of learning in natural environments.
62. Children develop much better motor skills (balance and coordination) in a natural environment than in a traditional              playground.

1.4 Social and Community

63. Exposure to nature may increase cooperation, sustainable intentions and behaviour. 
64. Time spent in nature is linked to more community cohesion, which enhances individual well-being, and contributions back to  society. Local nature is linked to lower crime.
65. The social correlates of contact with nature – community cohesion.
66. Experiencing natural beauty increases positive emotion—perhaps by inspiring awe, with the sense of being part of something  bigger than oneself—which leads to prosocial behaviours. 
67. Family camping reinforces family relationships.
68. What do children learn when camping?
69. The natural environment is important in creating a sense of belonging and identity, which in turn improves mental health.
70. Wild adventure space has many benefits for young people; the local community and wider society also benefit.

1.5 Tech

71. Technophilia can reinforce biophilia to improve ecological restoration.
72. Nature apps could transform how we interact with nature… and reinvigorate ways of enjoying nature. But very few make full use of the technology and/or have successfully captured the public imagination.
73. Extra hour of television and video games hurts GCSE grades.
74. Integrating Technology and Environmental Education for young children
75. Mapping tools appeal to children and offer exciting applications for children to demonstrate their ecological knowledge. This challenges notions that city children are disconnected from nature.

1.6 Children’s mobilities, independence and play

76. About independent travel for kids. Includes stuff on road play.
77. Play England: Response to UK Government Periodic Report on UNCRC [Date]
78. We need more effective strategies in balancing children’s safety and their need for and right to challenging and risky play.
79. England was ranked seventh for child independence in the study of 18,000 seven- to 15-year-olds in 16 countries.
80. It’s important to engage children in green spaces so that they get into the habit of using them.  Eg work with parents and police/rangers etc. to develop a safer environment so that children are allowed to go out alone.

1.7 Eco-Literacy / Connection / Meaning

81. Direct exposure to the natural world is important for children’s understanding of biological concepts and reasoning.
82. Local nature (eg tadpoles instead of pandas) is key to linking children to nature
83. Waterway environments provide people with rich and meaningful experiences 
84. Taking part in the Wildlife Trusts’ 30 Days Wild increases connection to nature (25%), conservation behaviours (10%), health (8%) and happiness (9%).
85. Experiences of Nature Affect Children's Willingness to Conserve Biodiversity
86. A sense of separation from “nature” is paradoxically reinforced by the very environmental education and related practices employed to overcome it.
87. Children’s attitudes to invertebrates, esp insects, will improve if primary schools include local invertebrates and species knowledge in the curriculum and allow for real-life experience.
88. Positive experiences in nature relate to children’s environmental behaviours.
89. Nature immersion experiences could address the risk of ‘nature-deficit disorder,’ improve health, and prepare future environmental leaders.
90. Ants help children understand insect biology. Children are more influenced by media than by personal encounters. School-curriculum developers should encourage direct contact with ants. 
91. The Relationships between Children's Perceptions of the Natural Environment and Solving Environmental Problems 
92. Nature connection is associated with pro-environmental behaviour and so environmental education programs need to assess this element.
93. NDD is a misdiagnosis – it can obscure and mistreat the problem. We need to rethink human-nature disconnectedness.
94. Measuring connection to nature in children (RSPB).
95. Looks at being alone in nature compared to being in nature with other people
96. Children’s disconnection from nature is a problem – the Natural Childhood report that launched TWN.
97. Children’s connection to nature influences future choices for nature-based activities
98. Strong correlation between ecological knowledge and frequency of visits to green spaces; children who have free play in nature retain a connection to nature as adults.
99. Positive experiences in nature can have a broad influence on environmental attitude (explains positive motivations for ecological behaviour).  
100. An adult’s attitude to the environment and time spent outdoors in green space is strongly influenced by their experience as a child.
101. A sense of connection with nature is associated with environmental concern and environmental behaviour.
102. Telling children stories about the natural history of a place they visit enhances biocentric engagement to place.
103. Ecoliteracy could be enhanced various strategies including creating nature trails for children to walk along on their way to school, and increasing school field visits.
104. Contact with nature before the age of 11 predicts a lifelong positive environmental behaviour.
105. Children who looked after plants and planted trees were most likely as adults to believe that “trees are calming” and “trees have personal meaning”.
106. Time spent outdoors appreciating nature, hunting and fishing, and exposure to books and nature programmes during youth predict later positive environmental beliefs.
107. Knowledge about conservation increases after a conservation education camp. 
108. Adolescents who had played in the wilderness as younger children had more positive perceptions of natural environment, outdoor recreation activities and future outdoor occupational environments.
109. Time spent in nature between the ages of 7 and 12 yrs was associated with the adult feeling of ‘indignation’ about insufficient nature protection.
110. Immigrant children in the US who as young children foraged for berries, fish, acorns etc had a much deeper understanding of biodiversity as teenagers than their suburban middle-class counterparts.


Louv, R., 2016. Vitamin N: The essential guide to a nature-rich life. Algonquin Books: Chapel Hill, North Carolina.

Louv, R., 2013. The Nature Principle: Human restoration and the end of nature-deficit disorder. Algonquin Books: Chapel Hill, N.C.

Louv, R., 2005. Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children from nature-deficit disorder. Atlantic Books: London


Policy and Reports – NHS, Defra, CNN etc.

111. More data required to monitor Natural Capital
112. Green Exercise Partnership 2014 Briefing note: Innovative NHS Greenspace in Scotland.
113. Community Action Guide Building the children & nature movement from the ground up
114. Mental Capital and Wellbeing: Making the most of ourselves in the 21st century.
115. The Effect of the Physical Environment on Mental Wellbeing.
116. Ecotherapy works


Links to popular articles that were based on a key piece of research appear under the paper reference in the journals document in the section above. * Higher quality 


117. Outdoor learning: the secret to improving behaviour in school.
118. *Abandon the school books and use the time instead to play and have fun with your children.
119. * How Nature Can Make You Kinder, Happier, and More Creative
120. Nature: A prescription for childhood health


121. Aspirational parents condemn their children to a desperate, joyless life
122.Long read about trees, cities, sustainability, resilient cities
123. * We need to live simultaneously in both the digital and physical worlds—combining the resurfaced “primitive” powers of our ancestors with the digital speed of our teenagers.
124. Learning the Art of Adventure
125. The average British child spends two hours and 56 minutes in front of screens every day.
126. Forget iPads, children love building a den
127. 7 Science-Backed Reasons To Get Your Kids Outside
128. Smartphones are hurting our children - but the real culprit is bad parenting
129. * Mood Enhancer: go down to the woods today.
130. Sound Of Nature: Study shows improved work productivity when natural sounds play in the office.
131. *Is North America on the brink of a play renaissance? Three milestones abroad: risky play, free-range parenting and playground surfaces.
132. Children's knowledge of nature is dwindling. Research by toy company Sylvanian Families.
133. CNN: The Unsafe Child. Less Outdoor Play is Causing More Harm than Good. By an occupational therapist; she has a book Balanced & Barefoot.
134. * Screen Addiction Is Taking a Toll on Children
135. The decline of play in preschoolers — and the rise in sensory issues
136. * UK income levels severely limit access to natural beauty 
137. Top Five Reasons to Choose Nature Preschool
138. * A Dose of Nature: The Secret Prescription to Health and Happiness?
139. * The Joyful, Illiterate Kindergartners of Finland
140. We need fewer exams and more wilderness in education
141. * E. O. Wilson explains why parks and nature are really good for your brain.
142. * Restoring Peace: Six Ways Nature in Our Lives Can Reduce the Violence in Our World
143. Short-sightedness could reach 'epidemic' proportions among children who stay indoors. 
144. * How tech workers are turning to the Japanese practice of ‘forest bathing’ to unplug.
145. * The new adventures of the adventure playground.
146. Looks at various recent research on benefits of garden - esp community gardens vs RHS type ones.
147. Scotland's Biodiversity – A Route Map to 2020 One of the six steps is to ensure that the majority of people derive increased benefits from contact with nature where they live and work. 

148. Half-term school holidays: Want your child to be a success? Quit scheduling and let them play
149. * The resurgence of adventure playgrounds. Excellent long read about fear, safety.
150. Returning to our home in the woods (About the wellness travel industry).


151. * How Nature Resets Our Minds and Bodies. 
152. Children today would rather read, do chores or even do HOMEWORK than play outside - and they get out half as much as their parents did. 
153. More Active Teens Get Higher Test Scores. 


154. Children prefer simple pleasures to organised trips 



155. Why Our Children Need To Get Outside and Engage with Nature

5.0 Film and video

156. Looking at nature is good for your brain.
157. * Film segment about the mythical nature-nurture debate and determinism. Includes Robert Sapolsky. (2011)
158. Hospital grounds re-imagined
159. Effect of exposure to natural environment on health inequalities
160. Greenspace design for health and wellbeing.
161. Ninewells Hospital Greenspace Demonstration project.
162. Learning outside the classroom: How far should you go? Ofsted.
163. Raising achievement through the environment: the case for fieldwork and field centres.
164. Natural England ‘Monitor of Engagement with the Natural Environment (MENE)’ An annual report is published at the end of each year. Links to quarterly reports.


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  2. Y. Hsiaopu., J. A. Stone., S. Churchill, J. Wheat, K. Davids & E. Brymer. 2016 Physical, psychological and emotional benefits of green exercise: an ecological dynamics perspective Sports Medicine
  3. K Husk, R Lovell, C Cooper, W Stahl-Timmins, R Garside. 2016 Participation in environmental enhancement and conservation activities for health and well-being in adults: a review of quantitative and qualitative evidence Cochrane Public Health Group.
  4. Gilbert, N., 2016. Green space: A natural high. Nature 531: S56–S57.
  5. Shanahan, D.F., Bush, R., Gaston, K.J., Lin, B.B., Dean, J., Barber, E., Fuller, R.A., 2016. Health Benefits from Nature Experiences Depend on Dose. Scientific Reports 6
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  7. Flowers, E.P., Freeman, P., Gladwell, V.F., 2016. A cross-sectional study examining predictors of visit frequency to local green space and the impact this has on physical activity levels. BMC Public Health 16.
  8. Sobko, T., Tse, M., Kaplan, M., 2016. A randomized controlled trial for families with preschool children - promoting healthy eating and active playtime by connecting to nature. BMC Public Health 16.
  9. Recovering mental health across outdoor places in Richmond, London: Tuning, skill and narrative
  10. K Bierski - Health & Place, 2016
  11. Calogiuri. 2016 Mediational Effects of Feelings about Nature and Social Networks International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health
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  16. Access to green space reduces rich-poor divide in mental wellbeing http://www.gla.ac.uk/news/headline_402984_en.html
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  20. Brymer, E., Davids, K., & Mallabon, E., 2014 Understanding the Psychological Health and Well-Being Benefits of Physical Activity in Nature: An Ecological Dynamics AnalysisJournal of Ecopsychology
  21. Nowak, D.J., Hirabayashi, S., Bodine, A., Greenfield, E., 2014. Tree and forest effects on air quality and human health in the United States. Environmental Pollution 193, 119-129.http://www.theatlantic.com/health/archive/2014/07/trees-good/375129/ 
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  61. Birdwell, J., Scott, R., Koninckx, D., 2015. Learning by Doing. http://www.demos.co.uk/files/Learning_by_Doing.pdf
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