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Numerous studies have demonstrated that natural environments have a profound effect on a range of human behaviours and states, but most of those studies have examined how natural environments affect individuals rather than interactions. We examined whether natural environments affect communication between parents and their 3- to 4-year-old children. Using a novel experimental design, we show that parent-child communication is more responsive and connected in a natural environment compared to an indoor environment. This study is the first to demonstrate that human communication is influenced by natural environments. Natural settings may constitute optimal environments for communication.
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Responding to Nature: Natural Environments Improve Parent-Child
Thea Cameron-Faulkner (corresponding author)
University of Manchester
Joanna Melville
University of Oxford
Merideth Gattis
Cardiff University
Numerous studies have demonstrated that natural environments have a
profound effect on a range of human behaviours and states, but most of those
studies have examined how natural environments affect individuals rather than
interactions. We examined whether natural environments affect communication
between parents and their 3- to 4-year-old children. Using a novel experimental
design, we show that parent-child communication is more responsive and
connected in a natural environment compared to an indoor environment. This
study is the first to demonstrate that human communication is influenced by
natural environments. Natural settings may constitute optimal environments for
: children; communication; green space; language; natural
environments; outdoors; parents; social interaction
Responding to Nature: Natural Environments Improve Parent-Child
Natural environments such as gardens, parks, and woodlands positively
influence a range of psychological processes and states (Bowler, Buyung-Ali,
Knight, & Pullin, 2010; Bratman, Hamilton, & Daily, 2012; Hartig, Mitchell, de
Vries, & Frumkin, 2014; Kaplan, 1995). For example, Ryan and colleagues (2010)
asked university students to evaluate their energy levels before and after taking
a 15-minute walk. A researcher led individual students on a silent walk, either
indoors through hallways and tunnels, or outdoors along a tree-lined path.
Students who walked outdoors reported higher energy levels after the walk
compared to before the walk, whereas students who walked indoors reported
similar energy levels before and after the walk. Similarly, Berman, Jonides, and
Kaplan (2008) compared university students’ performance on an attention-
demanding cognitive task, the backwards digit span, before and after a 50-
minute walk in an arboretum, and one week later, along city streets (or the
opposite order). Students’ performance on the digit span task improved after
walking in the arboretum compared to before the walk, but did not improve after
walking along city streets, thus demonstrating a positive effect of natural
environments on attention. In another study, adults who took a 50-minute walk
through grasslands and trees reported greater decreases in anxiety, negative
affect, and rumination and greater increases in positive affect compared to those
who took a 50-minute walk on an urban street (Bratman, Daily, Levy, & Gross,
2015). The results of numerous correlational studies are also consistent with the
hypothesis that natural environments, including both green spaces such as
gardens and parks and blue spaces such as coasts and rivers, benefit human
health and behaviour (e.g., Bai, Stanis, Kaczynski, & Besenyi, 2013; Biedenweg,
Scott, & Scott, 2017; Groenewegen, van den Berg, de Vries, & Verheij, 2006;
White, Alcock, Wheeler, & Depledge, 2013; White, Pahl, Ashbullby, Herbert, &
Depledge, 2013).
Natural environments are also associated with positive developmental
outcomes for children (Chawla, 2015; Gill, 2014; Evans, 2006). In a large-scale
epidemiological study, Dadvand and colleagues (2015) used satellite data to
quantify 7- to 10-year-old children’s exposure to green spaces at home, at school,
and along the route between home and school. Exposure to green space (school
greenness and a greenness index which combined greenness across residential,
commuting, and school areas) was positively related to cognitive development,
defined as increases in working memory and attention abilities over a 12-month
period. Other observational studies have reported positive associations between
natural environments and children’s attention, behaviour, learning,
psychological well-being, and self –regulation, as well as a reduction in the
symptoms of attention deficit disorder (Coley, 2012; Faber Taylor, Kuo, &
Sullivan, 2001, 2002; Flouri, Midouhas, & Joshi, 2014; Ulset, Vitaro, Brendgen,
Bekkhus, & Borge, 2017; Wells, 2000; Wells & Evans, 2003). A small number of
experimental studies have compared the influence of walking in a natural versus
urban environment on children’s attention and cognition in designs similar to
those used by Berman, Jonides, and Kaplan (2008) and Bratman, Daily, Levy, and
Gross (2015). Walking in natural environments has generally led to better
performance amongst children, though not on all measures (Faber Taylor & Kuo,
2009; Schutte, Torquati, & Beattie, 2017). Some evidence from outdoor learning
programmes also suggests that natural environments can improve attainment in
the primary school years (Quibell, Charlton, & Law, 2017). The existing evidence
thus suggests several potential benefits of natural environments for child
development, but is still preliminary, in particular due to limited experimental
evidence demonstrating causal relations between natural environments and
children’s behaviour and skills.
The vast majority of studies investigating the potential benefits of natural
environments have examined how environments affect individuals, rather than
interactions between people. Some evidence indicates that attractive and safe
natural environments can increase levels of social interaction, as well as a sense
of community (Hartig, Mitchell, de Vries, & Frumkin, 2014). Coley, Kuo, and
Sullivan (1997) observed more people outdoors in public spaces with trees
compared to spaces without trees in two urban housing authority sites, and
argued that trees and other vegetation in public spaces increase opportunities
for social interactions amongst people living in urban settings. In another study,
greenness of public spaces in an urban housing authority site was positively
associated with neighbourhood social ties and self-reported use of public spaces,
and negatively related to stress (Kuo, Sullivan, Coley, & Brunson, 1998).
Neighbourhood quality, measured objectively and including features such as
birdlife, lawns, and water, is positively related to people’s subjective sense of
community (Francis, Giles-Corti, Wood, & Knuiman, 2012). Other evidence
indicates that social cohesion and stress together mediate the positive relations
between natural environments and human health (de Vries, van Dillen,
Groenewegen, & Spreeuwenberg, 2013; Sugiyama, Giles-Corti, & Owen, 2008).
Weinstein, Balmford, DeHaan, Gladwell, Bradbury, and Amano (2015)
proposed that natural environments might promote a sense of connection or
relatedness with one’s surroundings, which includes not only the physical
environment but also other people, and thereby enhance social interactions.
They reported that in a large-scale online study with a nationally representative
sample in Great Britain, self-reported contact with nature was directly and
positively related to community cohesion, indicated by agreement with
statements such as: “I feel connected to other people in my neighbourhood.”
Objective quality of nature was not directly related to community cohesion,
however, raising the possibility that the association between contact with nature
and community cohesion might be due to shared method variance or some other
alternative explanation.
In this study we evaluated the possibility that natural environments
influence the quality of human communication, specifically between parents and
children. We focus on turn-taking and responsiveness as key indicators of
communication quality (Hilbrink, Gattis & Levinson, 2015; McGillion et al., 2017;
Snow, 1977; Song, Spier, & Tamis-Lemonda, 2014; Zimmerman et al., 2009).
Communication quality is important because it impacts child development.
Numerous studies over the years have identified strong links between the
quality and quantity of child-directed speech and subsequent language
development (e.g. Borstein, Tamis-LeMonda, & Haynes, 1999; Hart & Risley,
1995; Huttenlocher, Haight, Bryk, Seltzer, & Lyons, 1991; Weizman & Snow,
2001). Studies also demonstrate that children’s language skills benefit from
opportunities to engage with conversational partners who are responsive to
their communicative bids (i.e. by following in to the child's focus of attention)
and to engage in balanced conversations where both the child and adult take on
comparable amounts of the conversation (e.g. Hirsh-Pasek et al., 2015; Romeo, et
al., 2018). Furthermore, there is evidence to suggest that connectedness in
conversation (that is, the extent to which conversational turns that are
meaningfully related to each other) is positively associated with cognitive
development (e.g. Dickson, Hess, Miyake & Azuma, 1979; Dunn, Brown,
Slomkowski, Tesla, & Youngblade, 1991; Ensor & Hughes, 2008; Slomkowski &
Dunn, 1996).
To date there have been no systematic studies of the effects of the physical
environment on human communication, including parent-child language and
communication. This is surprising since, as outlined earlier, natural
environments have a positive effect on a number of psychological processes and
states that are central to communication and social interaction, such as attention,
working memory and self-regulation. We therefore predict that natural
environments will promote connected and responsive communication between
parents and their children.
The Current Study
We examined the effects of physical environments on parent-child
communication during exploration of a natural environment and an indoor
environment. We selected a city centre park for the natural environment and the
park's nature-focussed education centre for the indoor environment. Our choice
to contrast thematically-linked natural and indoor environments as opposed to
two different outdoor environments (e.g. natural and built) was motivated by
two factors. Firstly the natural/indoor contrast has provided important insights
into the effects of the environment on cognition in both adults and children, as
outlined in the introduction. Secondly, there are no studies of systematically-
collected spontaneous parent-child communication in natural environments and
therefore our first step is to compare parent-child communication in a natural
environment with parent-child communication an indoor environment that is
both well-matched to the natural environment and broadly similar to the indoor
settings in which previous research has examined parent-child communication.
Based on previous research displaying the beneficial effects of natural
settings on cognition and social interaction, we reasoned that natural
environments would enhance communication and connectedness. We therefore
predicted that parent-child communication would be more connected and more
responsive in the natural environment compared to the indoor environment. We
defined connectedness as sequences of
conversational turns that are
meaningfully linked
, and responsiveness as instances where speakers
follow in
and respond to the content
of their social partner’s utterances (Hoff-Ginsberg,
1991; Slomkowski & Dunn, 1996). To test these hypotheses, we conducted a
within-subjects experiment to compare parent-child communication in our two
family-friendly nature-oriented settings. Our measures include both
interactional and individual language measures typical of the key measures used
in studies of parent-child communication.
Participants were 18 parent-child pairs (17 mother-child pairs, 1 father-
child pair) (6 female children; mean age = 45 months, range = 35-56, SD = 5.72).
Data from 3 additional pairs were excluded due to the child’s reluctance to wear
the recording equipment (n =1) and to not adhering to the time allocated to each
setting (n=2). Table 1 displays information on the education level of the parents
and also general information on the frequency of visits to parks in general and
the test site specifically.
Table 1.
Background information on the study sample
Highest education level attained
Tertiary degree
Further education (up to 18 years)
High School education (up to 16 years)
Frequency of visits to parks
Once a month
Visited Bute Park prior to study?
We focussed on three- and four-year-old children because basic language
skills are generally established by this point, while more sophisticated
communicative skills and social cognition are still emerging. At three and four
years, children have the linguistic tools to engage in sustained conversational
episodes but are still developing the interactional skills required for meaningful
and balanced interactions. Our within-subjects design ensured the power of
contrasts between conditions, while at the same time allowing us to collect
ecologically valid data within a short timeframe to ensure consistency across
participants for environmental factors such as weather and seasonal variation.
The novelty of the current study precludes power analyses since no existing
studies have contrasted the effects of indoor and outdoor settings on language.
However our sample size is consistent with a range of studies involving the
effects of outdoors settings (e.g. Berman et al., 2008; Faber Taylor & Kuo, 2009).
All parents had a high school level education (i.e. compulsory education up
until the age of 16) or above. Participants were drawn from the Cardiff area of
Wales, UK and recruited through the Cardiff University Development@Cardiff
database, local museums and social media. Ethical approval for all aspects of the
study was provided by the University of Manchester Ethical Approval
Committee. Written consent was obtained from the parents and verbal assent
was obtained from the children.
Research Context
Test site.
The study took place at Bute Park and Arboretum in Cardiff,
Wales. Bute Park comprises an extensive area of mature parkland within Cardiff
city centre. The park contains a range of trails and sculptures in addition to an
arboretum and river corridor. The park also contains an indoor education centre
that promotes the park’s wildlife, horticulture and history. The education centre
contains displays, books and child-focused craft activities. Both the education
centre and the park are focused on promoting historic and wildlife interest, and
are stimulating and visually pleasing environments. Therefore, the natural and
indoor environments constituted distinct contexts with shared themes. For
example, the education centre contained a range of displays and exhibits that
reflected the flora and fauna of the park (e.g. a butterfly display and activity,
pictures of local wildlife, and maps of the park and surrounding area).
Importantly, both settings afforded a similar range of activities such as physical
exploration, manipulation and sharing of objects, and cooperation (see Figure 1).
Figure 1. Still images taken from the children’s head mounted cameras in the
natural environment (top row) and the indoor environment (bottom row)
We used a within-subjects design with environment (natural vs.
indoor) as the independent variable. The order of environment was
counterbalanced across the sample. The dependent measures included
interactive communication measures and individual language variables. The
interactive communication variables were (a) the overall number of utterances
produced by the parents and children, (b) the mean length of connected
communication episodes, and (c) levels of responsiveness to the co-participant.
The individual language variables were (e) levels of grammatical complexity and
(f) lexical diversity in the speech of the parents and children.
Procedure. The parents and children were asked to wear head-mounted
video cameras (Go Pro Hero 4 Silver edition)1 and informed that they would be
recorded in two settings: in the park and in the education centre. The head-
mounted cameras allowed the participants to roam freely without the intrusion
of a researcher and at the same time allowed us to record both the visual and
auditory components of the data, which was essential for the calculation of our
fine-grained interactional measures. The participants were then given the
For the next 15 minutes, we want you to go on a treasure hunt in the
(park/ centre). See what you can find
. The instruction was the same for both
settings. The participants were told that the experimenter would come and find
them after 15 minutes and take them to the next setting. After the recordings
were conducted, the parents were asked to complete an activity questionnaire
and provide general demographic information on their family (i.e. age of child
and education level of the parent). Parents were provided with travel expenses
and the children were provided with a small gift to thank them for their
Language Analysis Coding
All recordings were transcribed in ELAN (Sloetjes & Wittenburg, 2008) by
trained transcribers and checked by the first author. The measures of number of
utterances, length of connected communication episodes, and proportion of
responses were calculated directly from ELAN. We outline each of the dependent
variables below.
1 Participants were also equipped with pedometers but due to mechanical issues in
some data collection sessions the measures were not entered into the analyses.
Number of utterances.
Utterances were defined as discrete units of speech
delimited by a pause of three seconds or more.
Connected communication episodes. The mean length of connected
communicative episodes measure (CC) was coded manually and calculated using
a procedure based on Slomkowski and Dunn (1996). While automated
procedures are available for broad calculations of conversational turn length
(e.g. the Mean Length of Turn function in CLAN, and general turn taking
measures in LENA), there are no automated programmes that can code whether
one utterance is
logically and semantically
related to the next and thereby
contributing to a meaningful conversational interaction. Therefore, all CC coding
was conducted ‘by hand’ using the following method. The start point for each
connected conversation was coded as an initiation and the CC consisted of the
initiation and all subsequent logically related turns. Minimally, a CC could consist
of one initiation with no response; this would be scored as having a length of 1.
For example, in (1) the utterances would be coded as two independent
initiations each with a CC length of 1 due to the lack of a connected response
from the co-participant:
1. Parent: I can see a dog over there.
Child: Can I climb that tree?
Conversely in (2) the CC score would be 5 since the caregiver’s initiation
What shall we go and look for
?’ is followed by four logically-related turns. As
demonstrated in (2) a turn could consist of more than one utterance (line 3).
2. Parent: What shall we go and look for?
Child: Erm, frogs.
Parent: Frogs? Where would we find frogs?
Child: In a pool.
Parent: I don’t know if there is a pool.
Interrater reliabilities were conducted on 10% of the data and were good
(Cohen’s kappa =0.77).
The responsiveness measure was calculated within the CC
analysis. All responses to initiations were counted for the parents and children
separately and the final score comprised the number of responses over the total
number of utterances for each parent and child.
Individual language measures. For the individual language measures of
grammatical complexity and lexical diversity we imported the transcripts into
CLAN (MacWhinney, 2000). The MLU function was used to measure the mean
length of utterance (MLU) for the parent and child speech samples. MLU is the
standard measurement of grammatical complexity used in language
development studies (e.g. Brown, 1973). The measure calculates the average
number of morphemes in an utterance, which is then taken as a proxy of
grammatical complexity. Lexical diversity was calculated using the VOCD
command (Malvern, Richards, Chipere, & Purán, 2004). VOCD calculates the
proportion of different words produced, taking into consideration the overall
size of the speech sample.
No order or gender effects were attested in the data and therefore the
analyses were conducted on the sample as a whole. All dependent variables were
normally distributed with the exception of parental VOCD. Consequently, the
non-parametric Wilcoxon sign rank was used for parental VOCD and Paired
Table 2.
Results summary
95% Conf. Interval
Hedges' g
Number of
Length of connected episodes
(Standard Deviation),
Sample T-tests for all other analyses. All analyses are presented in Table 2 and
discussed in turn below.
Analyses of Communication and Language
Number of utterances.
Our first analysis focussed on the amount of speech
produced by parents and children in each setting. The children were significantly
more talkative in the natural environment than the indoor environment but
there was no significant difference in terms of the quantity of parent utterances.
Length of connected communication (CC) episodes.
The parent-child pairs
engaged in significantly longer connected communication (CC) episodes in the
natural environment when compared to the indoor environment.
Levels of responsiveness.
Within the connected episodes we compared the
proportion of utterances produced in response to the co-participant in the two
settings. A Paired-Samples T-test based on the proportional frequency of
responses indicated that both the parents and the children produced a
proportionally higher number of responses in the natural environment in
comparison to the indoor environment.
Levels of grammatical complexity and lexical diversity. Our final analyses
compared two general measures of language in the speech of the parents and
children. Levels of grammatical complexity were consistent across setting for
both the parents and children as were levels of lexical diversity.
We investigated whether and how natural environments influence human
communication. Our study combined robust experimental design with fine-
grained analyses of naturalistic data collected during parent and child
exploration of two settings, a city park and the park’s indoor education centre.
The results confirmed our hypothesis that communication is more connected
and responsive in natural environments. Three- and four-year-old children were
significantly more talkative in the natural environment. In addition, in the
natural environment parent-child conversations were longer (i.e. more
connected) and levels of responsiveness were higher for both parents and
children. By contrast, the individual language measures (i.e., grammatical
complexity and lexical diversity) were unaffected by setting. In the following
sections, we discuss the implications of our findings with regard to our two key
themes: environmental influences on human behaviour, and the context-
sensitive nature of parent-child interaction.
Natural Environments Benefit Social Interactions
Our findings demonstrate that natural environments influence social
interactions. Natural environments support parent-child interactions by
increasing responsive and connected communicative behaviour. Our findings are
consistent with a growing body of literature demonstrating positive relations
between natural environments and psychological processes and states within
individuals (e.g. Berman et al., 2008; Dadvand et al., 2015; Faber Taylor & Kuo,
2009; Kaplan, 1995). Our findings also make a significant and original
contribution to scientific understanding of the relations between natural
environments and human behaviour by providing causal evidence of the
influence of natural environments on social interactions between people. Natural
environments thus benefit social interactions as well as individuals.
Based on previous research we can identify and evaluate a number of
possible reasons for our findings. Firstly, research indicates that natural
environments have a restorative effect on human attentional processes as
captured in the seminal work of Kaplan and Kaplan's Attention Restoration
Theory (Kaplan & Kaplan, 1989; Kaplan, 1995). To date, most studies of
Attention Restoration Theory (ART) have focussed on the attentional skills
within individuals (e.g. Lee, Williams, Sargent, Williams, & Johnson, 2015; Faber
Taylor & Kuo, 2009). Our findings suggest that natural environments may also
promote greater levels of attention
individuals, and thereby influence
interactions between people. Future research should investigate the potential
influence of natural environments on attention between individuals, including
joint attention, a psychological process that lies at the heart of meaningful
communication (e.g., Tomasello, 1999).
An alternative suggestion is that the natural outdoor environment resulted
in lower stress, and more positive mood, and a greater sense of connection with
other people. This explanation is consistent with the results of studies conducted
by Ulrich and colleagues (e.g. Ulrich, Losito, Fioritot, Miles, & Zelson, 1991) and
the proposal from Weinstein and colleagues (2015) that natural environments
may promote a sense of connection with other people. This too would be a
logical explanation, given previously reported correlations between mood state
and social interaction (e.g. Clark & Watson, 1998). The relations between the
three variables (i.e. stress, mood, and connectedness) could be viewed in one of
two ways. One possibility is that natural outdoor environments decrease stress,
which in turn leads to more positive mood, and consequently supports more
connected and responsive communication. The other possibility is that natural
outdoor environments decrease stress, which in turn supports more connected
and responsive communication, and that subsequently leads to more positive
mood. Both are outside the scope of our current analysis, but are a promising
direction for future research.
Natural Environments Benefit Parent-Child Communication
Our finding that parents and their children engaged in more connected,
balanced conversations in the natural environment builds on robust evidence
concerning the context-sensitive nature of parent-child interaction (e.g. Hoff-
Ginsberg, 1991; Hoicka, Jutsum, & Gattis, 2008; Noble, Cameron-Faulkner, &
Lieven, 2017; Sosa, 2016). Our findings also yield new insights into the
importance of physical environments for communication. Language
development is influenced by meaningful communicative exchanges in which
both parent and child take active and responsive roles (e.g. Snow, 1977;
Zimmerman et al., 2009). Importantly, the quality of parent-child communication
and degree of connectedness is positively associated with children’s cognitive
outcomes (Dickson et al., 1979; Hart & Risley, 2003) and the development of
social cognition in particular (e.g. Ensor & Hughes, 2008). In our study, the
natural environment had a unique positive effect on the interactive aspects of
parent-child communication. The specific effects on the interactive aspects of
language use are further underlined by the stability of the individual language
measures across the two settings. Future avenues of research are planned in
order to ascertain exactly what aspects of the natural environment are
responsible for the positive effects.
It could be argued that there are methodological factors that contribute to
our findings. For example, one could argue that the parents may have felt more
self-conscious in the indoor environment and that this affected their language
use, or that the parents and children simply found the natural environment more
interesting than the indoor environment. Here, the comparability of the
individual measures (i.e. number of utterances, and vocabulary diversity)
between the two environments are helpful. The number of utterances produced
by the parents did not differ significantly during interaction in the two settings,
indicating that the parents were not more self conscious in the indoor
environment. Secondly, there were no differences in the range of words
produced by the parents or children during exploration of the two environments,
suggesting that there were similar amounts of interest and 'things to talk about'
in the two environments. Importantly, both settings shared nature themes and
visually-pleasing, interesting stimuli. The main difference in parent-child
communication in the two environments related to the depth and involvement of
the communication as opposed to the number of objects and events available for
Given the benefits of natural environments for human behaviour and
learning, it is surprising that developmental psychologists have shied away from
conducting studies in outdoor settings. This gap is reflective to some extent of
the sampling bias in developmental psychology, which is predominated by
studies conducted in western industrialised cultures where many child rearing
and learning activities occur in the home and other indoor environments. By
contrast, in many other cultures, children spend considerable time outside (e.g.
Callaghan et al., 2011; Ochs & Schieffelin, 1984). Therefore, understanding how
the physical environment affects parent-child interaction in industrialised
Western cultures will not only result in a more comprehensive understanding of
parent-child interaction but also provide a more appropriate baseline for cross-
cultural comparisons and generalisations across the human population.
Future Research and Applications
Our study makes an important advance towards an understanding of the
influence of natural environments on human communication and social
interaction. In doing so, it opens up an exciting area for future interdisciplinary
research. Firstly, future work is needed in order to ascertain exactly what
aspects of the environment facilitate more connected and responsive social
interactions. For example, are the present findings specific to natural settings,
and if so, what aspects of the natural setting are responsible for the positive
effects on communication? Secondly, future work is needed to evaluate whether
our findings extend to peer communication, including communication between
adults as well as communication between children. If so this avenue of research
could have important implications both for basic science in terms of the
cognitive processes associated with language but also for mental health and
well-being therapies and interventions. Finally, the interactions between stress,
mood, attentional processes and language use require detailed and extended
investigation. Identifying an influence of natural environments on
communication is an important first step, and understanding the processes
behind this relationship has the potential to provide valuable insights into
human cognition and our interactions with the world around us.
Our findings offer a promising new direction for interventions that aim to
support child development. Children learn language in the context of interaction
and conversational patterns associated with turn-taking (Ensor & Hughes, 2008;
Hilbrink, Gattis, & Levinson, 2015). Identifying situations that promote the
interactive aspects of communication is essential both for basic science and also
to inform interventions for children, including those with communicative
disorders and other broader risk factors as well. Future research should evaluate
the potential of natural environments as everyday contexts for language
interventions both delivered through parent-child interaction and also early
years settings.
Natural environments may also constitute optimal settings for learning
more generally. From conversations with parents, children learn about the
world, including community, concepts, and formal knowledge (Crowley,
Callanan, Tenenbaum, & Allen, 2001; Frazier, Gelman, & Wellman, 2009;
Paradise & Rogoff, 2009). Previous research has shown that parent-child
communication can support science learning, for example, by connecting formal
learning with everyday experience and by increasing transfer of knowledge
across contexts (Haden, 2010; Jant, Haden, Uttal, & Babcock, 2014). Future
research should examine how natural environments influence learning outcomes
as a function of parent-child communication.
Before closing this section we should note the limitations of our study. The
sample size was relatively small. We mitigated for this by using within-subjects
design but replication with a larger sample will be informative. While the effect
sizes for the interactional measures were large and robust, the small effect sizes
associated with the measures of MLU and VOCD mean that type II errors for the
individual language measures cannot be ruled out. Secondly, our findings may
have been influenced by specific characteristics of our sample. Population
estimates of British participation in higher education vary, but most estimates
indicate that less than 50% of adults go to university, whereas in our sample just
over 70% of parents were university-educated, indicating that our sample was
somewhat more educated than the population. In addition the majority of
families in our study reported visiting parks at least once a week, and we do not
know whether this level of visiting parks is typical of British families with 3- and
4-year-olds. Importantly, however, we observed robust differences in parent-
child communication in natural and indoor environments with a sample that
includes parents who did not have university degrees and who did not visit
parks with their children frequently. Future research should examine the effects
of natural environments on parent-child communication for families from other
cultural and socio-economic backgrounds. Finally, our analysis focussed on
language interaction within each environment as a whole as opposed to breaking
down the sessions into activity-specific episodes (e.g. climbing trees, sharing
books). Future research with larger samples could investigate the interaction
between activity, setting, and language use. On a related note, it will also be
important to build on the findings of the current study with future research
comparing parent-child communication in urban and natural environments.
Natural environments influence social interactions as well as individuals. In
this study, natural environments influenced social interactions between parents
and children by increasing connected, responsive communication. These
contexts may improve outcomes for interventions focused on cognitive and
linguistic development. The positive influence of natural environments on
human communication shows that when we respond to nature, we also respond
to each other.
We would like to thank all the staff Bute Park, Cardiff, Wales for accommodating
our study and in particular Meriel Jones and Julia Sas. Our thanks also go to all
the parents and children who took part in the study. Special thanks go to Rhys
Johnson for his help with data collection.
This work was supported by an institutional research grant awarded to the first
author and a Nuffield Research Placement grant awarded to Merideth Gattis and
Rhys Johnson.
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... Mean difference Cohen's d forests may provide cumulative positive effects of repeated restorative experiences (Collado et al., 2017;Hartig, 2007), the studies included in this literature review only considered the possible restorative impact of single visits (Cameron-Faulkner et al., 2018;Stevenson et al., 2019). A similar pattern was observed for behavioural outcomes (e.g., impulse inhibition, hyperactivity). ...
... According to these results, exposure to nature helps children inhibit impulses (Amicone et al., 2018), reduces hyperactivity (Balseviciene et al., 2014) and promotes physical activity (Raney et al., 2019), among others. Similarly, results included in the social category, although scarcer than the ones registered in the cognitive and behavioural categories, showed a clear restorative benefit from exposure to nature, with all the findings except one (Cameron-Faulkner et al., 2018), being positive and significant. This is in consonance with recent calls to extend restoration theory beyond ART (Kaplan & Kaplan, 1989) and SRT (Ulrich, 1983) and, specifically, to contemplate the restorative effects that nature exposure has on social resources (Hartig, 2021;Kaplan, 1995). ...
... RRT is a relatively new theory and, to our knowledge, there are no specific studies inspired by it. Yet, our findings indicate that nature exposure helps improve children's social resources (Balseviciene et al., 2014;Cameron-Faulkner et al., 2018). However, the number of findings for this restorative outcome is low, when compared to other variables (cognitive, emotional and behavioural), and none of them includes an antecedent condition to recover from. ...
One of the most documented effects of exposure to nature is physical and psychological restoration. Restoration refers to the recovery or strengthening of adaptive resources (e.g., attentional capabilities, positive emotions, etc.) that are being spent in meeting the demands of everyday life. The restorative process has been widely studied in adults, but less is known about the restorative effects that exposure to nature has for children and adolescents. To fill this gap in the literature, we conducted a systematic review aiming at systematically summarizing the accumulated evidence about the restorative effects of nature exposure on children and adolescents and reporting the main findings in terms of the restoration of (1) cognitive, (2) emotional, (3) social or (4) behavioural resources. To conduct the study, we followed the PRISMA procedure. Databases were extracted from Web of Science, PUBMED, and SCOPUS. Studies were selected if (a) they included non-adult participants, (b) they included empirical results at least for one of the four selected variables, (c) the study was published in English and (d) the study had been peer-reviewed. According to these criteria, 30 studies were finally selected. Selected studies were categorized in terms of sample size, duration of the intervention (if applicable), and quality of the study (following the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute assessment tool). Results show that exposure to nature has significant restorative effects, but the effects differ across the selected variables. Due to methodological limitations, such as a lack of measurement standardization, and the scarcity of experimental and longitudinal studies, caution should be exercised when interpreting the available results. Suggestions for future lines of research in this area are provided.
... A natural environment might have a positive influence on the use of these skills. Cameron-Faulkner, Melville, and Gattis (2018), for example, suggested that natural environments might promote greater levels of attention between individuals, and thereby influence how people understand each other's communicative intentions. The understanding of communicative intentions is the heart of the language acquisition process, in Tomasello's approach. ...
... Results of Wilcoxon Signed Ranked Tests and thematic analysis of transcribed utterances of children's language use confirmed our hypothesis that there is a relation between the physical outdoor environment and both the quality and the quantity of children's language use. Specifically, we found that in the nature-based playground the children were more talkative, they negotiated more often in order to communicate the meaning they attributed to the objects and this made the utterances semantically more layered and complex, which is in line with previous studies (Cameron-Faulkner et al. 2017;Cameron-Faulkner, Melville, and Gattis 2018;Richardson and Murray 2016). We will discuss four themes that are helpful in uncovering different aspects of the relation between the physical environment and children's language use in the following sections. ...
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Playing in natural environments is a popular activity for young children. In previous years, studies have shown benefits of playing in natural environment for children’s motor development and attention restoration. In this study, we explored the relation between playing in natural environments and children’s language use. A total of N = 18 children (4–7 years) from three Dutch primary schools participated. To measure children’s language use during outdoor play, we recorded their utterances for ten minutes while playing in a non-nature-based playground and a nature-based playground. Audio tapes were transcribed and coded using a coding scheme focusing on communicative functions. Findings indicated that children used more language and more complex language while playing in the nature-based playground. Additionally, four themes were identified: (1) Children used language to refer to their play situation, (2) Children used language to refer to the elements of their physical play environment. (3) Compared to the non-nature-based playground, children talked more about the objects of the nature-based playground, and (4) Children talked more about science and math concepts. Play in the nature-based playground appeared to be a richer conversational setting for language use than the non-nature-based playground, with a potential to scaffold and guide language use.
... Visiting a natural environment such as a garden, children's farm, a forest, or park can be supportive to families. Studies in shelters as well as in other living places have indicated that natural environments near a family's living place can be used as a safe and engaging place for family activities, where parents can find fun and unconstrained ways to interact with their children (Ashbullby et al., 2013;Izenstark et al., 2016Izenstark et al., , 2021Cameron-Faulkner et al., 2018;Millican et al., 2019;Kotozaki, 2020;Rantala and Puhakka, 2020;Peters et al., 2020a;Varning Poulsen et al., 2020). Such positive moments in nature are associated with stress reduction in parents (Razani et al., 2018;Kotozaki, 2020) and responsive interactions between parent and child (Cameron-Faulkner et al., 2018). ...
... Studies in shelters as well as in other living places have indicated that natural environments near a family's living place can be used as a safe and engaging place for family activities, where parents can find fun and unconstrained ways to interact with their children (Ashbullby et al., 2013;Izenstark et al., 2016Izenstark et al., , 2021Cameron-Faulkner et al., 2018;Millican et al., 2019;Kotozaki, 2020;Rantala and Puhakka, 2020;Peters et al., 2020a;Varning Poulsen et al., 2020). Such positive moments in nature are associated with stress reduction in parents (Razani et al., 2018;Kotozaki, 2020) and responsive interactions between parent and child (Cameron-Faulkner et al., 2018). For parents in shelters specifically, experiences in a natural environment have been associated with parents' experiences of connectedness with their child, autonomy in making parenting decisions, and competence in their parenting practice (Peters et al., 2020a(Peters et al., ,b, 2021. ...
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Visiting a natural environment such as a garden or park helps people to recover from stressful circumstances. Women’s shelters and homeless shelters have started to integrate nature in their work, especially for families who seek temporary refuge, with the aim to support parents’ functioning and resilience. For professionals who want to facilitate engagement with nature among their clients, it may be helpful to learn how other professionals choose nature activities for the support of parents. The current study was aimed to uncover how social workers choose a nature activity for the support of parents, resulting in a model that can be used as a reflective tool among shelter professionals. The model is based on an analysis of actions of professionals, captured in case descriptions written by shelter professionals about parenting supportive nature activities that they facilitated for families under their care. The model shows that social workers promoted a back-and-forth between children’s exploration away from the parent and being with the parent. In facilitating these interactions, social workers used nature as an environment with stress reducing and strengthening capacities for parents and as an environment with supportive qualities for children’s play. A dimensional framework was extracted that described how professionals may choose activities.
... In our study, time spent in shared reading activities was predictive of expressive vocabulary and M3L in the older age group, though it was not predictive of vocabulary outcomes in the younger age group, likely because it was a very infrequent activity in younger children. In addition, outdoor play and direct experiences in outdoor settings foster opportunities for childdirected speech, verbal communications, and language development (e.g., Cameron-Faulkner et al., 2017;Cameron-Faulkner, Melville & Gattis, 2018;O'Brien & Murray, 2007). Playing outdoors was low among the children in our sample, which could be attributed to the hot weather in the country and the lack of green space, parks, and outdoor play areas. ...
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This study investigates the influence of the quantity, content, and context of screen media use on the language development of 85 Saudi children aged 1 to 3 years. Surveys and weekly event-based diaries were employed to track children’s screen use patterns. Language development was assessed using JISH Arabic Communicative Development Inventory (JACDI). Findings indicate that the most significant predictor of expressive and receptive vocabulary in 12- to 16-month-olds was screen media context (as measured by the frequency of interactive joint media engagements). In older children (17- to 36-month-olds), more screen time (as measured by the amount of time spent using screens, the prevalence of background TV at home, and the onset age of screen use) had the highest negative impact on expressive vocabulary and mean length of utterance. These findings support health recommendations on the negative effects of excessive screen time and the positive effects of co-viewing media with children.
... Therefore, a strong recommendation is a better time management, which could help the parent who stated that if he had more free time "we could walk in nature". His statement is supported by other studies, which reported that walking in nature improves parent-child communication (e.g., Cameron-Faulkner et al., 2018). ...
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The aim of this paper was to explore and present a specific point of view of university teacher parents about communication with their children, using focus group interviews. The focus group was conducted with tenured teachers (N = 12) from a Life Science university from western Romania. The parents’ ages varied from 34 to 48 years old (M age = 39.83 years) and relating to gender, there were 7 females and 5 males. Data collected from the interviews were analyzed using thematic analyses methods. Most of the parents have considered that parent-child communication represents an essential element in child development and in a positive family environment. Time, stress and overuse of technology are considered, by questioned parents, to be the main barriers to positive and efficient communication with their children. School is not perceived as a catalyst in developing a positive parent-child communication. Even if the parents are tenured university teachers, with knowledge in effective communication, and high expectations from society to be especially good at parent-child communication, they face the same difficulties as any other parents. This aspect could lead to a conclusion that the problems of parent-child communication could be a general one. The implications for families with school-age children are discussed.
... Natural environments are considered to be particularly beneficial for children with neuropsychiatric traits such as ADHD and ASD (Kuo and Taylor, 2004;Faber Taylor and Kuo, 2011;Di Carmine and Berto, 2020) as well as for families in general. Spending time together outdoors appears to enhance communication, which becomes more responsive and connected when compared to an indoor setting (Cameron-Faulkner et al., 2018). ...
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Mentalization-based family therapy and family rehabilitation represent a rich variety of approaches for assisting families with difficult interaction patterns. On the other hand, adventure therapy methods have been successfully used with families to offer them empowering experiences of succeeding together against difficult odds and to improve communication between family members. Further, the health promoting qualities of spending time outdoors are now well established and recognized. The Nordic approach to mentalization-based family rehabilitation combines adventure, outdoor, and systemic therapy. We provide three examples of nature-based family rehabilitation practices that are delivered as brief, multi-family psychological interventions taking place in nearby nature and aiming to support sustainable, systemic change. The current contribution is a description of clinical practice, not a systematic review or a formal evaluation. We propose that recontextualizing mentalization-based family rehabilitation to the outdoors can not only provide added health benefits, but also strengthen intra-familial attuned interaction and emotional connectedness. The outdoor adventure provides the families with embodied, multisensory experiences of verbal and, especially, non-verbal interaction that can be usefully examined through the lens of theory of mentalization. The concreteness of adventure experiences is particularly beneficial for families that have difficulties in verbal communication and/or utilizing executive functions, perhaps due to neuropsychiatric traits, intellectual disabilities, or learning difficulties. Furthermore, outdoor adventure can support the participants’ connectedness to nature.
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There has been increasing interest over the past decade with regard to the health and wellbeing implications of time spent outdoors in nature for children. Universal systematic reviews of evidence report benefits to physical health, social-emotional mental health and wellbeing, cognition and academic learning. Internationally, there is indicative evidence to suggest outdoor engagement with nature may also impact children's language and communication skills, skills that are critical to development, education, social relationships and life opportunities. Yet, at present such evidence has not been synthesised. Despite evidence for the benefits of the outdoors, the amount of time children are spending outdoors is in rapid decline, and has been further exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic. Alongside this are increasing numbers of children starting primary education with significant speech, language and communication needs (SLCN) which remain persistent over time. With established wide-reaching benefits of nature to children's physical and mental health and psychological development, there is a need to further explore the more specific impacts of the natural environment on children's language, communication and social skills, which could provide a unique opportunity to consider nature as a universal public health intervention for SLCN. The current review will aim to synthesise existing qualitative and quantitative evidence of the impact of time spent in natural outdoor spaces on the language, communication and social skills of 2-11-year-old children. Literature will be searched across seven databases and considered for inclusion against inclusion and exclusion criteria. Potential implications of the review include informing public health practice and policy for child development and education, informing priorities for speech, language, and communication interventions, and providing directions for future international research.
Digital interpretation in wild and remote landscapes is hugely challenging, yet offers enormous potential for widening access to heritage in these settings. We provide a critical evaluation of the Walking with Romans app, developed by the Brecon Beacons National Park Authority, to interpret two Scheduled Ancient Monuments: Y Pigwn Roman marching camp and Waun Ddu Fortlet (c. AD78). Analysis of digital interpretation has paid less attention to social and multimodal interactions, the spatial experience of digital technologies, and the challenges of achieving successful visits at remote sites. We explore how visitor talk responds to interpretive content while also accomplishing everyday social interactions, such as demonstrating togetherness, by analysing video footage from visits. We find that visitors do a considerable amount of shared work to interpret archaeological features, including the use of talk and other multimodal resources of embodied conduct and the app itself. Visitors demonstrate that terrain underfoot is an important resource for interpreting features and remembering earlier interpretive content. Heritage interpreters could consider how everyday sociability and subtle responses to landscape and terrain are woven into the experience of interpreting landscapes to enhance visitors’ experiences of outdoor heritage sites.
To explore changes in family‐based nature activities (FBNA) across five developmental stages and investigate whether frequency and type of FBNA across the early life course is associated with greater family relationship quality in emerging adulthood. Retrospective survey data was collected from 451 undergraduate students who primarily identified as Asian American (44.9%) and Latinx (42.7%). Multilevel models showed that participants who showed greater stability in FBNA across the early life course reported more positive family relationship quality in emerging adulthood. Higher income participants' FBNA declined more rapidly as they aged, whereas lower income participants showed greater stability across five developmental stages. Greater participation in social, physical, nature, and travel types of outdoor family activities were associated with more positive family relationship quality in emerging adulthood, whereas sports and entertainment were not significantly associated. Findings support the FBNA framework, suggesting that continued participation in outdoor family rituals across the early life course is associated with positive family relationship outcomes in adulthood. Results are discussed in relation to the importance of studying outdoor family leisure rituals in the field of human development and family studies.
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Linguistic interactions between parents and their children are frequently studied to investigate how children acquire language. From observations, researchers have identified interaction strategies that foster children’s language development. In turn, interventions to support children’s early language skills employ styles of interaction derived from these observations. However, researchers have not often considered how the activity context selected for observation may affect the language used, or whether these contexts reflect children’s diverse experiences. The aim of this scoping review was to explore the breadth of literature about language use across a range of activities. Included studies described linguistic outputs of parents and typically developing children (aged 1;0–5;11 years) and activity context(s). Searches were conducted in PsycInfo, Medline, CINAHL, ERIC-ProQuest and Google Scholar. From 16,718 records, 59 studies were retained. Studies were charted according to the population included, linguistic outputs recorded, activity contexts studied and the methodological design. To allow for comparison of results across activity contexts, five thematic categories were identified: play activities, book reading, naturalistic routines, media and methodological implications. Challenges for future research are discussed, including ways to ensure the ecological validity of findings by coupling naturalistic language recordings with data collected during diverse everyday activity contexts.
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Research suggests that the formation of neighborhood social ties (NSTs) may substantially depend on the informal social contact which occurs in neighborhood common spaces, and that in inner‐city neighborhoods where common spaces are often barren no‐man's lands, the presence of trees and grass supports common space use and informal social contact among neighbors. We found that for 145 urban public housing residents randomly assigned to 18 architecturally identical buildings, levels of vegetation in common spaces predict both use of common spaces and NSTs; further, use of common spaces mediated the relationship between vegetation and NSTS. In addition, vegetation and NSTs were significantly related to residents' senses of safety and adjustment. These findings suggest that the use and characteristics of common spaces may play a vital role in the natural growth of community, and that improving common spaces may be an especially productive focus for community organizing efforts in inner‐city neighborhoods.
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The positive effects of shared book reading on vocabulary and reading development are well attested (e.g., Bus, van Ijzendoorn, & Pellegrini, 1995). However, the role of shared book reading in grammatical development remains unclear. In this study, we conducted a construction-based analysis of caregivers’ child-directed speech during shared book reading and toy play and compared the grammatical profile of the child-directed speech generated during the two activities. The findings indicate that (a) the child-directed speech generated by shared book reading contains significantly more grammatically rich constructions than child-directed speech generated by toy play, and (b) the grammatical profile of the book itself affects the grammatical profile of the child-directed speech generated by shared book reading.
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Children's early language exposure impacts their later linguistic skills, cognitive abilities, and academic achievement, and large disparities in language exposure are associated with family socioeconomic status (SES). However, there is little evidence about the neural mechanism(s) underlying the relation between language experience and linguistic/cognitive development. Here, language experience was measured from home audio recordings of 36 SES-diverse 4-6 year-old children. During a story-listening fMRI task, children who had experienced more conversational turns with adults-independent of SES, IQ, and adult/child utterances alone-exhibited greater left inferior frontal (Broca's area) activation, which significantly explained the relation between children's language exposure and verbal skill. This is the first evidence directly relating children's language environments with neural language processing, specifying both environmental and neural mechanisms underlying SES disparities in children's language skills. Furthermore, results suggest that conversational experience impacts neural language processing over and above SES and/or the sheer quantity of words heard.
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A child's first words mark the emergence of a uniquely human ability. Theories of the developmental steps that pave the way for word production have proposed that either vocal or gestural precursors are key. These accounts were tested by assessing the developmental synchrony in the onset of babbling, pointing, and word production for 46 infants observed monthly between the ages of 9 and 18 months. Babbling and pointing did not develop in tight synchrony and babble onset alone predicted first words. Pointing and maternal education emerged as predictors of lexical knowledge only in relation to a measure taken at 18 months. This suggests a far more important role for early phonological development in the creation of the lexicon than previously thought.
Gaps in education attainment between high and low achieving children in the primary school years are frequently evidenced in educational reports. Linked to social disadvantage, these gaps have detrimental long-term effects on learning. There is a need to close the gap in attainment by addressing barriers to learning and offering alternative contexts for education. There is increasing evidence for beneficial impacts of education delivered outdoors, yet most programmes are un-structured, and evidence is anecdotal and lacks experimental rigour. In addition, there is a wealth of social-emotional outcomes reported yet little in the way of educational attainment outcomes. The current study explores the educational impact of a structured curriculum-based outdoor learning programme for primary school children: 'Wilderness Schooling'. A matched-groups design: Wilderness Schooling (n=223) and conventional schooling (n=217), was used to compare attainment data in English reading, English writing and maths, collected at three time-points: Pre- (T1) and post-intervention (T2) and at a 6-week follow up (T3). Data show that children in the Wilderness Schooling group significantly improved their attainment in all three subjects compared to controls. Trajectories of impact indicated attainment continued to increase from baseline in the following weeks after the intervention concluded. These results allow the case to be made for the core curriculum to be conducted outdoors to improve children's learning. However, it is important to consider that there are likely to be various components of the intervention that could form a theory of change essential to reported outcomes.
The natural environment contributes to human wellbeing in a variety of ways, including providing outdoor recreation venues and underpinning cultural practices. Understanding whether the diversity of human-nature experiences significantly relate to overall subjective wellbeing, however, is rarely explored. Using results from 4418 respondents to an online survey conducted in Washington's Puget Sound region, we describe the relationship between overall life satisfaction and diverse metrics of how people engage with the natural environment. We found that eleven of the thirteen tested metrics had a small but positive correlation to overall life satisfaction and specific groupings of environment-specific social indicators were internally reliable constructs that predicted life satisfaction. These included: Sense of Place, Outdoor Activities, Good Governance, Social and Cultural Activities, Psychological Wellbeing, and Resource Access. This research empirically demonstrates that a variety of mechanisms for engaging the natural environment significantly contribute to overall subjective wellbeing.
This paper sets out the findings of a systematic review of the research literature on the benefits that arise when children under 12 spend time in natural environments. The review also explored the relationship between these benefits and the style of children's engagement with nature. The findings support the view that spending time in nature is part of a “balanced diet” of childhood experiences that promote children's healthy development, well-being and positive environmental attitudes and values. It also points to the value of more playful engagement styles. The findings are relevant to the development of educational and planning policy and practice, and to advocacy work.
A corpus of nearly 150,000 maternal word-tokens used by 53 low-income mothers in 263 mother-child conversations in 5 settings (e.g., play. mealtime, and book readings) was studied, Ninety-nine percent of maternal lexical input consisted of the 3,000 most frequent words. Children's vocabulary performance in kindergarten and later in 2nd grade related more to the occurrence of sophisticated lexical items than to quantity of lexical input overall. Density of sophisticated words heard and the density with which such words were embedded in helpful or instructive interactions, at age 5 at home, independently predicted over a third of the variance in children's vocabulary performance in both kindergarten and 2nd grade. These two variables, with controls for maternal education, child nonverbal IQ, and amount of child's talk produced during the interactive settings, at age 5, predicted 50% of the variance in children's 2nd-grade vocabulary.