The number of children regularly playing in nature has declined over the last 30 years in the United Kingdom. More children report feeling unhappy or experiencing isolation and loneliness since the COVID-19 pandemic. As a result, more attention is being placed on nature-based interventions, which can have a positive impact on mental health and wellbeing. Similarly, arts-based interventions are also said to impact children and young people's health and wellbeing. Research on the interconnection of nature and arts is scant. This systematic review explores the types and characteristics of arts-based interventions in nature and how they support the health and well-being of children and young people.
Findings from eight studies were synthesized, comprised of data from 602 participants recruited from schools. Arts-based interventions delivered in nature and outdoor spaces varied in terms of setting, theoretical framework, structure, content, and activities. The most structured intervention was an early environmental educational program; three interventions incorporated multi-model arts approaches (e.g., drawing, music, sculpting), two interventions focused on outdoor music making, and two focused on the Forest School approach. The rigor of qualitative studies was judged to be high; the rigor of quantitative studies was judged to be weak or unclear.
The most frequently reported outcomes were connectedness to nature and sense of wellbeing, followed by engagement in the learning process. All studies reported a positive impact on connectedness to nature, and it was the most reported outcome. The review highlights a cycle where increased connectivity can lead to nature becoming more a part of the children's and young people's identity, leading to increased environmental awareness and promote pro-environmental behavior, which can lead to environmental sustainability. The studies also reported improved wellbeing which includes stress levels, empathy and emotional regulation, mood, and self-perception. Four of the studies found increased engagement and immersion with learning. Other outcomes such as autonomy, agency, sense of authenticity, sense of belonging in nature also showed improvements.
This review highlights the value of arts-based interventions to promote connectedness to nature and wellbeing in children and young people. Arts-based interventions can help engage those that otherwise may not be as interested in environmental issues. The authors suggest additional research to explore parameters such as duration, frequency, and intensity of the interventions on outcomes and to understand if effects are sustained over time. There may also be implications for exploring working with artists given their crucial role in cultural norms and values. However the cost of artist-led programming may suggest that teachers are the preferred implementers of art in nature interventions. Teacher confidence was identified as a possible challenge and additional research on supports that teachers could receive from artists and schools is warranted.