Children who grow up playing outside in “rich natural environments” show better overall development, a new study has found.
Previous research has suggested that living in green spaces such as forests, parks and gardens could have a positive effect on early childhood development.
It has been associated with reduced behavioural problems, increased attention and working memory, and positive academic performance.
In a bid to understand how exposure to nature affects early development, researchers studied 27,372 children in Vancouver, Canada from their birth until the age of five.
The findings, published in The Lancet Planetary Health journal, showed that all children, regardless of how much green space they were exposed to, developed well in terms of language skills, cognitive capacity and social skills.
“But what’s interesting is that those children living in a residential location with more vegetation and richer natural environments showed better overall development than their peers with less green space,” Ingrid Jarvis, a co-author of the study said.
Typically, living in loud and busy urban areas can affect children’s health as it may cause increased stress and sleep disturbances.
Researchers said parents living in busy cities and towns could try to combat the negative impact of high levels of air pollution by regularly taking their children to local green spaces.
Street trees, parks and community gardens are “fundamentally important” to reduce the harmful effects of air pollution and noise, they added.
Dr Matilda van den Bosch, another co-author of the study, said that while more research is needed, the findings could have important implications for urban planning.
“Urban planning efforts to increase green space in residential neighbourhoods and around schools are beneficial for early childhood development, with potential health benefits throughout life,” Bosch said.
“Time in nature can benefit everyone, but if we want our children to have a good head start, it’s important to provide an enriching environment through nature contact.
“Access to green space from a very young age can help ensure good social, emotional and mental development among children.”