What Works in school based natural environment interventions: A scoping review
2019 : Becca Lovell: University of Exeter Medical School
Children and young people in the UK face a number of health and wellbeing challenges. A recent survey indicated that one in eight 5-19-year olds had at least one mental health disorder in 2017, with rates having increased over the past 20 years . The need to focus on equitably improving children and young people’s mental and physical health is clear. The school is one of the most important settings and mechanisms through which we can address the health and wellbeing of children and young people. As a result, there is interest in identifying effective interventions and in understanding how educational cultures, practices and environments can be modified or used to support the equitable physical, social, cognitive, and academic development of children and young people. One approach is to use the natural environment as a setting or resource through which the health and wellbeing and academic development of children and young people can be promoted and protected.
Key pathways to benefit
While very little of the available research is able to provide evidence of cause and effect, some studies do provide a greater understanding of likely ‘active ingredients’ in school based natural environment strategies, some of which relate to the wider evidence base of schools based mental health promotion strategies .
Natural spaces in the school environment and trips to local or more distant natural environments may help create the conditions in which children and young people’s health and wellbeing and learning outcomes are positive impacted by:
• Forming positive social relationships.
• The development of non-cognitive skills such as resilience and perseverance. Helping children and young people in their development of self-efficacy, in new and different skill sets, and feelings of competence. Additional skills development may subsequently impact wider academic achievement.
• Providing opportunities to develop independence and leadership capabilities.
• Giving children a ‘break’ from place based stresses and anxiety and from normal routines.
• Facilitating increased opportunities for higher intensity, and more varied forms of physical activity.
• Allowing children to take part in ‘risky play’ and physical activity.
• Contributing to development of supportive school cultures, sense of belonging and a supportive academic community.
• Improved environment quality of the school.
The evidence indicates that the key school based natural environment activities or exposures may be linked to a range of positive outcomes, with indications of particular benefits for disadvantaged children and young people, and for those suffering with health or behavioural issues. One of the strongest arguments for many forms of schools based natural environment activity is the potential for co-benefits. The greening of school grounds, for instance, has the potential to impact on the health and wellbeing and environmental attitudes of children and young people through several concurrent pathways.