How Nature Promotes Good Mental Health

How Nature Promotes Good Mental Health

Does spending time outdoors as a child improve mental health as an adult? According to a new European study published in the International Journal of Environmental Health Research, exposure to nature—or what the researcher calls NOEs, for natural outdoor environments—does, indeed, lead to better mental health for youngsters as they grow into their adult years.

The study found that, “Compared to high levels of childhood NOE exposure, low levels of childhood NOE exposure were significantly associated with lower mental health scores in adulthood.”

For several years, the Guidance Center has been not only touting the benefits of nature for children’s mental health, but also incorporating experiences in nature into our therapeutic methods.

Case in point: Our two organic gardens—one at our headquarters in Roslyn Heights and the other at our Marks Family Right From the Start 0-3+ Center in Manhasset—where we see children blossom as they learn important skills such as self-confidence, focus, cooperation and responsibility.

“One of the most critical things for kids we work with is to help them build a sense of belonging, mastery and competence,” says Andrew Malekoff, Executive Director of the Guidance Center. “Working in a garden helps children develop self-esteem as they witness what their hard work and dedication can create, and it’s also a way for them to connect with other kids.”

The Guidance Center also has a “Nature Nursery” at our Right From the Start Center, where our youngest clients use all their senses as they play in a sandbox, touch the leaves and pine cones, produce musical sounds on percussive instruments, draw on a chalkboard or paint on an outdoor “canvas.” 

The various textures, sounds, smells and sights in the Nature Nursery help children explore their creative sides, share their feelings and learn skills to help them calm down when they are feeling upset or agitated.

Our teen clients reap the benefits of nature through our Wilderness Respite Program, in which they go on hikes to various natural settings and develop important traits such as individual growth, leadership, self-esteem, social bonds and improved communication.

With spring in full bloom, do your kids—and yourself—a favor: Unplug and explore some of Long Island’s fabulous parks, beaches, gardens and playgrounds. These are experiences they’ll remember long after the latest computer gadget is in the junk pile.