Whether you’re a parent, provider, or simply responsible for the care and maintenance of your own mental health, it can be difficult to stay up-to-date on emerging research.
These days, research on mental health is published at an incredible rate. Even trying to follow one academic journal can feel like drinking from a fire hose. That’s why sketchnotes like these are a cornerstone of my work.
In today’s post, I share a recent doodle illustrating researchers’ findings on the link between kids, nature, and COVID-19. Click here to access the full text of this journal article.
Researchers at Cambridge Wondered How Quarantine Impacted Kids’ Experiences Outdoors:
A research study conducted by researchers at Cambridge in 2021 explored the role that nature played for children as they coped with school closures, social disruptions, and life in a pandemic. 1
The results were interesting:
This study, led by Samantha Friedman and published in the journal People & Nature, found that kids who spent more time outside during the pandemic experienced fewer emotional and behavioral problems, both during the pandemic and in the immediate aftermath.
But researchers also looked at how household income impacted how kids engaged with nature in 2020…
Friedman’s research found this conclusion – that time spent outdoors was linked to better emotion and behavior regulation – was true for all socioeconomic levels in this study of 372 families. However, while exposure to nature positively affected all socioeconomic groups, the research shows that affluent kids had more access to the outdoors during the lockdown.
How Household Income Affects Kids’ Time Spent Outdoors
Overall, the children in the study, British kids aged 3 to 7 years old, tended to have less exposure to nature if they were in a lower-income family.
Most parents reported a change in their child’s experience with nature during the pandemic. Whether it was more time outside or less, the pandemic disrupted our typical schedules. For many kids, that free time led to more time to play in the yard, explore local parks, or go hiking with their parents. For some kids, however, the economic stress on parents may have led to less outdoor time.
For children whose time spent outdoors decreased during the pandemic, one-third of these children ages 3 to 7 years old experienced an increase in anxiety, sadness, or “acting out” (something that is often seen as attention-seeking behavior, but often has more complex roots).
Kids experience nature in various ways. While most of us tend to think kids’ experiences in nature are limited mostly to playgrounds, ballfields, and an occasional nature hike, there are lots of ways to encourage children to be active outdoors.
Some research has suggested that in addition to playing outdoors, getting kids involved in gardening and other outdoor activities (like raking leaves or pulling weeds) can be ways to increase kids’ outdoor time.
How to Help Kids Get More Outdoor Time:
Based on the results of this research from Cambridge University, researchers suggest several ways to help kids of all socioeconomic levels get more time outside in nature. Through studying how how pandemic closures impacted the amount of outdoor time kids were getting, researchers suggest:
- fewer structured extracurricular activities,
- more inclusion of gardening and hands-on ecology projects in schools,
- and an increase in funding for nature-based activities.
In other words, for kids in families with a higher socioeconomic status, foregoing a few activities a week (like scouting, sports teams, dance classes, music lessons, etc.) to give kids more free time may be an effective way to increase their time spent outdoors. Alternatively, children without access to these kinds of extracurriculars may benefit from outdoor time being integrated into school curriculum, like school-based community gardens and environmental education.
Download a PDF of This Research
Why Visual Translations of Journal Articles are A Cornerstone of My Creative Work
This is why a portion of the art that I publish each month for my patrons focuses on simple, visual translations of academic research articles. Instead of a 20-minute read or even slogging through an academic abstract, I create visuals that are fun and easy to read, understand, and immediately put into action.
In the past, I’ve had the opportunity to collaborate with the work of Johns Hopkins University to bring awareness to their PCE research, as well as the Yale University Child Study Center’s study regarding parenting children with anxiety. More often, however, creating sketch notes of emerging psychology and mental health research is just a fun way for me to keep up-to-date while helping important research reach providers, parents, and individuals.
If you’d like to partner with me in this work of helping emerging research on mental health, parenting, and social issues reach individuals beyond the academic round, consider partnering with me as a patron. Patron support keeps my work sustainable and generative.
2020 was a tough year for all of us, and kids had a unique challenge. In the absence of school-based routines, quarantine didn’t look the same for every child. Samantha Friedman’s 2021 research published in People & Nature explores the overlaps between time spent in nature and behavioral/emotional struggles, and the role that socioeconomic factors played in both.
Detailed Image Description for Screen Readers
This sketch note presents a summary of research originally published in October 2021 in the Journal of People & Nature by Samantha Friedman, and has been visually translated by Lindsay Braman. The research sample was of three hundred and seventy-two families in the UK with children aged three to seven years old. The sketch note is titled “Kids, COVID, & Nature: A Research Summary.” At the top of the sketch note is a drawing of a person looking through a magnifying glass at a leaf. Below this person is written, “A 2021 study by researchers at Cambridge explored how engaging with nature helped kids cope with COVID.” Next to the word “Cambridge” is a drawing of a Cambridge seal. Underneath this is a striped bar and more writing: “Kids who spent MORE time OUTSIDE had less emotional and behavioral problems.” On the bottom left of the sketch note is a drawing of a suburban house and an city apartment building. Around this is written, “While true for kids of all socioeconomic levels, affluent kids were found to have more COVID-outdoor time while others were outdoors less during COVID.” A middle column of writing on the top-center of the sketch note says: “Two-thirds of parents reported a change in their child’s interaction with nature during COVID lockdowns. For children whose nature time decreased, one-third experienced an increase in anxiety, sadness, or ‘acting out.'” These lines of text are accompanied by bar graph drawings. A third column of text on the right side of the sketch note reads, “How to get more nature time? Researchers suggest: fewer structured extra-curricular activities, more school gardening activities, and more school funding for nature activities.” A drawing of a meter made by leaves is located above this. Below this, in the bottom right of the sketch note, is a panel drawing with three pieces. It reads, “Kids experience nature through: gardening, playing outside, and other outdoor activities.” The word “gardening” is accompanied by a hand holding a carrot. The words “playing outside” are accompanied by a swing. The words “other outdoor activities” are accompanied by a rake with leaves.
Researcher Samantha Friedman's studied how children spent time outdoors during 2020. The study found that kids who spent more time outside felt better and had fewer issues with behavior. This was true for kids from rich and poor families. Most kids from poor families, however, did not get to spend more time outside in 2020. Kids from wealthy families did spend more time outdoors in 2020. Wealthy kids, then, got more benefits of being outdoors. Researchers think that having fewer after-school programs and more outdoor time during school might help kids from all income levels thrive. This study was published in 2021 in the Journal People & Nature.
- Friedman, S., Imrie, S., Fink, E., Gedikoglu, M., & Hughes, C. (2022). Understanding changes to children’s connection to nature during the COVID‐19 pandemic and implications for child well‐being. People and Nature, 4(1), 155-165.