ResourcesResearchGrowing-Up, Naturally: The Mental Health Legacy of Early Nature Affiliation

Growing-Up, Naturally: The Mental Health Legacy of Early Nature Affiliation

While many studies now demonstrate the emotional and psychological benefits associated with higher levels of nature connectedness, much less is known about how factors such as childhood nature experiences might influence nature connectedness’ development. In this two-phase mixed methods study, the relationship between nature connectedness and childhood nature experiences was explored among a sample of Canadian undergraduate university students. The objectives of the study were twofold: 1) To determine associations between quantitative measures of nature connectedness, positive childhood nature experiences, and mental health via an online survey (Phase One); and, 2) To compare, qualitatively, the self-reported childhood nature experiences of students who are relatively more nature connected to those who are less nature connected via in-depth interviews (Phase Two). Quantitative findings from the Phase One online survey demonstrate that in a sample of university students (N=308) nature connectedness—which was associated significantly with higher levels of emotional and psychological well-being—correlates positively and significantly with students’ self-recalled positive childhood nature experiences. Thematic analysis of qualitative findings from in-depth interviews held with students (n=12) in Phase Two shed additional light on this association: students who measured relatively higher in nature connectedness recalled growing up in the vicinity of accessible, expansive, natural places, and being raised in families that modeled a love for nature and valued shared nature experiences. Overall, findings suggest that positive experiences in natural places growing up may have long-term mental health benefits through fostering a more ecological self.

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