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A safe, natural environment can be a break from our busy lives – a place to get some fresh air, to exercise or play – a place to go and relax.” Faculty for Public Health, 2010


With the summer holidays fast approaching many families will be considering how to spend time with their children. One option could be to visit an outdoor natural environment close to home (like parks, woodlands and beaches), free poker apps, and there is growing evidence to suggest that spending time in natural environments can have mental and physical health benefits for both children and adults alike.

Outdoor environments can be an important setting for children to be physically active and take part in active play. In a study conducted with colleagues at the University of Bristol, Dr Ben Wheeler found that around half of children’s moderate to vigorous physical activity took place in green space at the weekend. One reason some researchers believe natural environments may inspire physical activity in children is that they are more varied and changeable than other indoor or manmade settings.

For example, if you imagine being in a woodland there are trees to climb, leaves to play in and constantly moving small animals and bugs to investigate. Similarly at the beach there is sand, water and pebbles to play with – the sand and sea is constantly moving and changing with the tides and weather.  Researchers have argued that a further advantage of children spending time in natural environments is that is that they can learn about and develop confidence in being outdoors. 


What do we know about the ways families spend time together in natural environments?

Unfortunately the answer to this question is very little! Although research has studied adults and children separately there is a lack of work examining the ways families spend time together in natural environments.  We also know very little about how parents and children perceive the advantages or disadvantages of family visits to natural environments, or the factors that act to encourage or restrict families from visiting. 

To start to address this lack of knowledge, Dr Katherine Ashbullby and colleagues are investigating how families with children aged 8-11 years spend their time at the beach. They have interviewed 15 families living in coastal regions in Cornwall and Devon and are attempting to find out:

-How often families visit beaches and how they spend their time at the beach

-Children and parents perceptions of the potential health benefits and risks of family beach visits 

-Children and parents perceptions of the barriers to family visits

To read more about the study, click here. More information on these findings will be available soon…


Children and the Blue Gym

As we have touched upon, existing research suggests that interacting with green space (such as parks and woodlands) can benefit a child’s health and wellbeing. However, as yet there is no evidence concerning the benefits of children having contact with blue space. Studies of adults have shown that ‘blue’ environments are commonly preferred and can have a positive effect on health and well-being. A key goal of a PhD project currently underway at the European Centre for Environment & Human Health will be to determine if the same preference for blue space exists in children.


Being careful and managing risks

Of course as well as having a lot of benefits to health there can be risks associated with spending time at the beach. The Royal Society for Protection of Accidents has advice on helping children to learn about and safely manage risk in different environments. The Royal National Lifeboat Institution also provides advice on beach safety.


Interested in spending time in a natural environment with your children?

 Find out more through following one of the following links for ideas of ways to spend time with your children outdoors: 


Join in the discussion

What do you think about this issue? Join in the discussion by telling us how often you and your family visit the beach and the factors encourage or prevent you from visiting.