Activities in nature: How frequent is the contact of contemporary children with the natural world?

António Almeida, V. Rato, Z. Dabaja

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingConference contributionpeer-review


The progressive process of industrialization that has been occurring in the world in the last 200 years has increased the urban population. Nowadays, about 55% of the world’s population lives in urban areas. This figure is expected to increase to 68% by 2050 (United Nations, 2018). One consequence of this trend has been the progressive nature withdrawal, which affect children’s development. In fact, Kellert (2002) states that the cognitive, affective and evaluative (values related) development of children could be improved by the contact with natural settings, which promote exploration, discovery and imagination. This is also achieved with the quality of activities implemented in different types of green spaces: wild or more humanized settings, like parks and gardens.

This study aimed to check the frequency of several activities in a group of 153 urban children, 87 boys and 70 girls, from 6 state schools with different social backgrounds (low to high socio-economic status) from the Lisbon area. To achieve this, a questionnaire was administered containing demographic-related items, such as gender, age and school, and 11 statements related to different outdoor activities. Children had to select the frequency of their performing of each activity according to a four-point scale: never (1 point), rarely (2), sometimes (3), often (4). A total score was then calculated for each child, ranging from 11 to 44 points.

The questionnaire items were adapted from those used in Bixter, Floyd, and Hammitt (2002) and also included a few activities mentioned by Louv (2010) that were common in previous generations. The activities were: picking up wild fruits; gardening; climbing trees; catching birds in traps; collecting rocks, minerals and fossils; tracking; visiting farms, zoos and other thematic parks; practising outdoor sports; playing in forested areas; going hunting or fishing with friends and relatives; rappelling and other extreme sports. Since data obey to a non-normal distribution, both for each statement and for the total scored, a Mann Whitney test was applied to compare gender scores.

The results show that almost all activities have never or rarely been done by the participants, and only outdoor sports are practised more often (sometimes). Boys and girls statistical significant differences were only for outdoor sports and for hunting and fishing activity, favouring boys, but all activities had a very low frequency in both genders.

The present study confirmed the trend presented initially and has several implications for parents, teachers and policy makers. It seems that our children are refraining from performing a myriad of activities common in previous generations, which allow contact with nature. This is clearly an impoverishment of children’s development and, as Pyle (2002) suggested, environmental education programs, in a more adventurous ground, should be improved. According to the latter author, even certain activities that have a (small) negative impact on nature, like trapping birds, seem to be important to the development of a connection with nature. Another recommendation is the need to fight “the criminalization of Natural Play”, a term used by Louv (2010). In fact, nowadays “everything” is forbidden either by law or in the minds of some adults, like to step grass, to climb trees, to play in the dirt… Therefore, we need to strengthen outdoor playing and learning to establish a stronger connection between children and nature.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationICERI2019 Proceedings
EditorsL. Gómez Chova, A. López Martínez, I. Candel Torres
Place of PublicationValência
PublisherInternational Academy of Technology, Education and Development (IATED)
Number of pages7
ISBN (Electronic)978-84-09-14755-7
Publication statusPublished - 2019
Event12th annual International Conference of Education, Research and Innovation - Seville, Spain
Duration: 11 Nov 201913 Nov 2019


Conference12th annual International Conference of Education, Research and Innovation
Abbreviated titleICERI2019
Internet address


  • Primary children
  • Contact with nature
  • Outdoor activities


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