Pioneering research shows children “connected to nature” achieve better SAT results

23 February 2016

New research from the University of Derby has revealed children who are in touch with nature achieve better results in their Year 6 SAT exams.

Commissioned by the RSPB, a group of psychologists at the University undertook a project measuring primary school children’s connection to nature, their pro-environmental behaviours, life satisfaction, health and – for the first time – educational attainment.

The findings reveal that children with a greater connection to nature achieve better test scores, have higher wellbeing and pro-nature behaviours.

And researchers are now hoping the report will help persuade others that a connection to nature is vital for a child’s wellbeing and education.

Project leader Dr Miles Richardson, Head of Psychology at the University of Derby, said: “The results demonstrate that children who were more connected to nature had significantly higher English attainment.

“While there are a multitude of factors associated with a child’s English attainment, it is noteworthy that connection to nature is as important to children’s achievement in English as established factors such as life satisfaction and attendance at school.

“The analysis also found strong correlations between connection and pro-nature behaviours and pro-environmental behaviour. A positive correlation was also evident between children’s connection and days spent outdoors and days spent in nature over the past week, suggesting that the more time spent in nature is associated with a child’s connection to nature.

“The research provides evidence that connecting with nature should be part of every child’s life – it has the potential to aid nature’s revival while benefiting the child. To embed nature connection within our social norms, there is a need to be able to understand the benefits and set targets for levels of nature connection.”

The project was undertaken by the University’s Nature Connectedness Research Group including Professor David Sheffield, Associate Head of Centre for Psychological Research; Dr Caroline Harvey, Lecturer in Psychology; and Dominic Petronzi, HE Associate Lecturer for the College of Life and Natural Sciences.

Children running in a field

Linking with the University’s College of Education, the team conducted fieldwork in 15 primary schools across the East Midlands using 775 pupils aged 10-11 years.

The project’s brief was to build on a previous project by the RSPB to define children’s connection to nature and establish UK baselines for 8-12 year-olds.

The work was supported by the Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation, an international charitable foundation with cultural, educational, social and scientific interests.

Andrew Barnett, Director of the Foundation’s UK Branch, said: “The results of this pioneering research confirm the benefits on health, wellbeing and even educational attainment of raising children, the future custodians of nature, with a sense of responsibility for and kinship towards the natural world.

“Robust evidence of children’s connection to nature will be a powerful lever for change.”

Martin Harper, RSPB Conservation Director, added: “For nature’s sake and our own sake, we need to address the growing disconnection of people from nature. If people do not care about or have an interest in nature, they are not going to protect it.

“This new research has reinforced our previous finding that only one-in-five children in the UK are connected to nature, and for the first time demonstrated the important benefits associated with being connected.

“Thanks to it, we are a step closer to increasing people’s connection, a step closer to them helping to give nature a home, and a step closer to a world richer in nature for us all.”