A large-scale longitudinal study from Denmark published less than two months ago adds to the stockpile of research strengthening the connection between nature and health. The Denmark study shows a strong correlation between green space in childhood and reduced risk of psychiatric disorders in adolescence and adulthood. Those who lived in the lowest amount of green space from birth to age 10 had 15-55% higher risk of developing a psychiatric disorder than those that lived in the highest amount of green space, intellectual disability and schizoaffective disorder not included. Researchers used data from over 900,000 people living in Denmark that were born there between 1985 and 2003 and were still living there by their 10th birthday. High resolution satellite data was used to assess how much green space was present in a 210 x 210 meter square around each individual’s place of residence until age 10. Researchers were able to draw correlations and control for a wide range of individual and socioeconomic factors thanks to the Danish Civil Registration System, which was established in 1968. Under the DCRS, each individual has a PIN connected to other national registers, together including information on gender, place of birth, vital status, parents’ PINs, place of residences, health, and socioeconomic information, all of which is regularly updated. Although many studies on nature and well-being have been conducted, the scale of the Denmark study is unmatched and brings much more weight to discussions about the importance of nature in childhood.
It seems the benefits of getting children outside in nature are unlimited. Here in Boulder County, we are lucky to have so much designated open space! There are 65,624 acres of open space in Boulder County, with 61.5% open to the public, 31.1% designated agricultural land, and 8.4% closed to the public for various reasons. Boulder County parks are open from sunrise until sunset. Living in Longmont, one of my personal favorites is Rabbit Mountain Open Space because it is dog-friendly and provides the opportunity to see elk, deer, rabbits, birds, and a gorgeous view of the nearby mountains. Additionally, the City of Boulder Open Space and Mountain Parks Department preserves and protects over 45,000 acres of land with 155 miles of trails. These areas are open daily from 5:00am-11:00pm. When enjoying these areas, always remember to practice Leave No Trace Principles so they can continue to be enjoyed by all.
Students of Boulder Valley Waldorf School enjoy a total of 38 acres of land. The 5-acre inner campus contains school buildings, play yards and gardens surrounded by 32 acres of agricultural land and open space for regular “field” trips, including the shady cottonwoods to the north. The three main farm fields are managed by Aspen Moon Farms following organic and biodynamic practices by master farm manager Jason Griffith. Time in nature is built into the curriculum at BVWS and children go outside every day in all kinds of weather. With the detached building structure of campus, even a quick jaunt to the office for supplies requires students to walk outside past gardens and natural space. Nature walks and fort building in the cottonwoods are common in Early Childhood. With no gymnasium, Recess, PE and Games are all held outside. At times, grades classes will take their lunches outside to enjoy the beautiful weather and campus. Grades class plays may also take place outdoors! Additionally, we celebrate the passage of time through seasonal festivals, connecting children with one another and with the earth, fostering an appreciation for life, the natural environment and our human cultures.
“Acres of Open Space.” Open Space Management, Boulder County, www.bouldercounty.org/open-space/management/acres/.
“Department Information.” Open Space and Mountain Parks, City of Boulder, CO, bouldercolorado.gov/osmp/department-information-and-osmp-history.
Engemann, Kristine, et al. “Residential Green Space in Childhood Is Associated with Lower Risk of Psychiatric Disorders from Adolescence into Adulthood.” PNAS, National Academy of Sciences, 12 Mar. 2019, www.pnas.org/content/116/11/5188.
Suttie, Jill. “How Nature Can Make You Kinder, Happier, and More Creative.” Greater Good Magazine, Greater Good Science Center at UC Berkeley, 2 Mar. 2016, greatergood.berkeley.edu/article/item/how_nature_makes_you_kinder_happier_more_creative.