How nature impacts cognitive development

It’s often said that getting outside for some fresh air can have a great impact on our lives. In fact, research shows that spending time in nature helps us sleep better, reduces our blood pressure, and boosts our immune system. Besides producing physical health benefits, nature helps improve our minds, too.

Let’s dig into the relationship between nature and learning to find out more about the impact of nature on cognitive development.

How nature helps us learn better

While nature improves our psychological and physical well-being, it also enhances our learning abilities. Scientists suggest that exposure to nature improves a child’s ability to learn and can even improve grades, especially in disadvantaged children. Experiments indicate that teaching in an outside setting using traditional methods improves retention. This retention is effective across a broad student population and can occur in a variety of subject areas, such as biology math.

Cognitive improvements

Both adults and children can focus better after being in nature. By being physically outside – or even having a view of nature through a window – we’re able to take a mental break from electronics and other mentally draining distractions. This can reduce attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) symptoms and improve concentration and performance on tests. Participating in activities outdoors instead of indoors also helps us develop more self-discipline and impulse control, both of which are tied to academic success.

Nature is well-known for providing an environment for complete physical fitness – and this, in turn, brings improvements to our learning. Cardiorespiratory fitness – such as running, swimming, and cycling – is especially beneficial for supporting efficient cognitive processing. Although more research still needs to be done to explain the relationship, we do know that kids with high fitness levels perform better academically.

When we spend time outside, we’re overall happier people. Our moods improve, and we experience less anxiety, depression and anger. Our brain function is also better – we have more mental clarity and creativity.

Cortisol, a hormone that’s a marker for stress, lowers when we’re outside. Attention Restoration Theory describes how there may be an evolutionary reason for nature being a comfortable, familiar place. As this article outlines, nature is simpler and less taxing than crowds and noise of city life, making it easier to focus and concentrate.

Stressful periods – such as exam time for students or work deadlines for adults – can be made more manageable by taking a walk outside, even for a brief few moments. Doing so allows us to reset our minds and improve our ability to handle anxiety-filled moments.

The bottom line

Nature and its fresh air, sunshine and wildlife are well-known for bringing positive effects on our physical well-being, but it’s also beneficial for our minds.

This year’s Family Literacy Day on January 27 focuses on “Learning in the Great Outdoors.” Why not bundle up and take your learning outside for a change? Once you experience nature’s many benefits, you’ll be eager to make learning outdoors a regular part of your family’s routine! Visit to access free family learning resources.