Nature Therapy

"Giving children the chance to play outside has myriad benefits, from physical activity to creativity, emotional health, social connectedness, and cognitive development, including the specific executive function skills that are so critical to a happy, healthy childhood and a fulfilling life." Children and Nature Network 

Ecotherapy/Nature therapy is the assistance of nature and the great outdoors to help our inner self and mental health. Ecotherapy may include outdoor therapy, forest bathing, outdoor mindfulness, wilderness and adventure therapy, gardening, outdoor photography, conservation work and creative therapies utilizing nature.

Nature can be an effective means to aid in positive youth development.

  • Nature helps to restore children's attention. Kaplan’s Attention Restoration Theory (ART): ART posits that many of us suffer from directed attention fatigue (having to constantly refocus our attention and screen out stimuli). Exposure to nature can help us improve our ability to focus and concentrate.

  • Nature relieves youth's stress. Studies have shown that having instruction outdoors one day a week can significantly improve the daily cortisol patterns of youth, leading to less stress and improved adaptation to stress, when compared to youth with indoor only classes. 

  • Nature helps youth to develop more self-discipline and increased executive functioning skills, which is linked to academic success. Many children with ADHD experience difficulty with impulse control, which can impede learning. Research has shown that youth with ADHD perform better on tests after taking a short walk in a natural setting.

  • Time outside may improve physical fitness. Youth who spend extra time outdoors may be more active and less overweight. Fitness appears to positively impact cognitive processing. Having contact with nature may propel youth to be more physically active. 

  • Nature environments can lead to social connection and creativity. 

  • Nature play helps to develop stronger motor skills and improved balance and coordination as compared to youth who play on conventional playgrounds.

  • Phytoncides are antimicrobial volatile organic compounds made by plants. They are present in certain trees (oak, pine, cypress, cedar, locust), tea tree, garlic, and many spices. Phytoncides protect plants from bacteria, fungi, and insects. The National Institute of Health (NIH) cites studies that have shown that phytoncides increase the ability and number of “natural killer” cells in our body- these cells are important for fighting viruses and cancer.

Using nature in a therapeutic way positively impacts a child/adolescent's development. Before industrialization, nature was a natural part of the lives of everyone. "Biophilia", a term coined by Edward O. Wilson, pertains to the hypothesis that we as humans are inherently driven to be with nature. The lives of many children in today's world have created a disconnect with nature. Such a disconnect has been termed by Richard Louv as 'Nature Deficit Disorder'. “Nature-deficit disorder,” says Louv, “describes the human costs of alienation from nature, among them: diminished use of the senses, attention difficulties, and higher rates of physical and emotional illnesses. The disorder can be detected in individuals, families, and communities.” This disconnect may be impacting a rise in inattention, depression, anxiety and behavioral difficulties; at the same time, we see a decrease in problem solving skills, social skills, creativity and imagination. 

Park Rx America is a non-profit organization whose mission is to decrease the burden of chronic disease, increase health and happiness, and foster environmental stewardship, by virtue of prescribing Nature during the routine delivery of healthcare by a diverse group of health care professionals.