Many adults have fond memories of meandering in meadows or weaving through local forests when they were children. It turns out that playing in nature positively affects physical and mental development in children, according to a recent review of 16 studies involving a total of 711 healthy children ages 2–12 from various locations worldwide.

University of South Australia researchers in Adelaide conducted the systematic review to evaluate evidence that might support the claim that playing in nature benefits child health and development. Concerns are arising as, anecdotally, fewer children worldwide are playing outdoors and more are choosing, instead, to play with electronic devices inside the confines of a house.

“Nature play” is defined as unstructured, nature-based activity in environments the include such elements as plants, rocks, mud, sand, gardens, forest, and ponds or other water. Study authors determined that nature play provides multiple physical conditioning benefits and is even more advantageous for cognitive development, as it allows for imaginative play. While studies did not report statistical significance, nature play appears to boost learning; support social and emotional development; and improve attention, concentration, and constructive, social and functional play in children.

The study is available in PLOS ONE (2020; doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0229006).