Children who play regularly in natural environments show more advanced motor fitness, including coordination, balance and agility, and they are sick less often (Grahn, et al. 1997, Fjortoft & Sageie 2001).
When children play in natural environments, their play is more diverse with imaginative and creative play that fosters language and collaborative skills (Moore & Wong 1997, Taylor, et al. 1998, Fjortoft 2000).
Exposure to natural environments improves children's cognitive development by improving their awareness, reasoning and observational skills (Pyle 2002).
Spending time in nature has been shown to reduce stress and benefit treatment of numerous health conditions (Kahn 1999).
Nature buffers the impact of life's stresses on children and helps them deal with adversity. The greater the amount of nature exposure, the greater the benefits (Wells & Evans 2003).
Children with Attention Deficit Disorder are positively affected by the calmness of natural playscapes (Taylor et al 2001).
An affinity to and love of nature, along with a positive environmental ethic, grow out of regular contact with and play in the natural world during early childhood. (Chawla 1998; Sobel 1996,2002, 2004; Wilson 1997; Moore and Cosco, 2000; Kals et al 1999, 2003).
Early experiences with the natural world have been positively linked with the development of imagination and the sense of wonder (Cobb 1977, Louv 1991).
Wonder is an important motivator for life long learning (Wilson 1997).
Children who play in nature have more positive feelings about each other (Moore 1986).
Natural environments stimulate social interaction between children (Moore 1986, Bixler et al. 2002).
From Forest Kindergarten: The Cedarsong Way, by Erin Kinney:
"In the Forest Kindergarten model no toys are given to the children, although there may be a few tools, like buckets, shovels, bug boxes, magnifying glasses and binoculars. So many modern toys come with a description of the way they are supposed to be played with or are tied into marketing of some movie or TV show where all the "correct" play scenarios have already been detailed. In the forest, children use their imagination to transform commonly found nature objects into any number of imaginary props for their play scenario. This concept of loose parts toys leads to stimulating a child's imagination and the expanded creativity leads to better problem-solving abilities for these young children. They learn that there is not just one way to play with objects nor is there just one answer to every question" (13).
"When children are engaging in unstructured imaginative play, they are learning the fine art of socialization: negotiation, compromise, cooperation and teamwork" (14).
The National Wildlife Federation (2013) also found that children who play outdoors tend to have a healthier body weight, have better vision, and a higher level of vitamin D. Extended amounts of time playing outdoors can help develop empathy, help children have better attention spans, and enhance critical thinking skills (National Wildlife Federation, 2013).
Research focusing on the development of young children in forest kindergartens compared to traditional early
childhood daycare facilities have found significant advantages of forest school programs that include more imaginative play, a greater ability to concentrate on tasks for extended periods of time, better listening skills and better vocabulary development, fewer absences, better stamina and fine motor skills, improved balance and coordination, respect for nature, greater confidence and self-esteem, more advanced social skills, better awareness of self and others, better teacher insight into essential skills and learning styles of children, and enthusiasm for the outdoors (Borradile, 2006).