Do experiences with nature promote learning? Converging evidence of a cause-and-effect relationship

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Do experiences with nature - from wilderness backpacking to plants in a preschool, to a wetland lesson on frogs-promote learning? Until recently, claims outstripped evidence on this question. But the field has matured, not only substantiating previously unwarranted claims but deepening our understanding of the cause-and-effect relationship between nature and learning. Hundreds of studies now bear on this question, and converging evidence strongly suggests that experiences of nature boost academic learning, personal development, and environmental stewardship. This brief integrative review summarizes recent advances and the current state of our understanding. The research on personal development and environmental stewardship is compelling although not quantitative. Report after report - from independent observers as well as participants themselves - indicate shifts in perseverance, problem solving, critical thinking, leadership, teamwork, and resilience. Similarly, over fifty studies point to nature playing a key role in the development of pro-environmental behavior, particularly by fostering an emotional connection to nature. In academic contexts, nature-based instruction outperforms traditional instruction. The evidence here is particularly strong, including experimental evidence; evidence across a wide range of samples and instructional approaches; outcomes such as standardized test scores and graduation rates; and evidence for specific explanatory mechanisms and active ingredients. Nature may promote learning by improving learners' attention, levels of stress, self-discipline, interest and enjoyment in learning, and physical activity and fitness. Nature also appears to provide a calmer, quieter, safer context for learning; a warmer, more cooperative context for learning; and a combination of "loose parts" and autonomy that fosters developmentally beneficial forms of play. It is time to take nature seriously as a resource for learning - particularly for students not effectively reached by traditional instruction.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number305
JournalFrontiers in Psychology
Issue numberFEB
StatePublished - Jan 1 2019

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
We thank the members of the NBLR Network for their diverse contributions of expertise, skills, resources and passion for connecting children to nature: Marc Berman, Judy Braus, Greg Cajete, Cheryl Charles, Louise Chawla, Scott Chazdon, Angie Chen, Avery Cleary, Nilda Cosco, Andrea Faber Taylor, Megan Gunnar, Erin Hashimoto-Martell, Peter Kahn, Sarah Milligan Toffler, Robin Moore, Scott Sampson, David Sobel, David Strayer, Jason Watson, Sheila Williams Ridge, Dilafruz Williams, and Tamra Willis. This literature review was conducted under the auspices of the Science of Nature-Based Learning Collaborative Research Network (NBLR Network) supported by the National Science Foundation under Grant No. NSF 1540919. Any opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Science Foundation

Publisher Copyright:
© 2019 Kuo, Barnes and Jordan.


  • Environmental education
  • Green schoolyard
  • Green space
  • Instruction
  • Literature review
  • Nature-based learning
  • Teaching

PubMed: MeSH publication types

  • Journal Article
  • Review


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