Connection to nature is not a dispensable amenity, it's essential to the health, prosperity, productivity, quality of life, and social well-being of all Americans. The recommendations here have profound consequences for American society in general and sectors as diverse as conservation, healthcare, education, community development, and more.
We offer these recommendations to professionals not only in the conservation and environmental communities, but also to those in diverse array of sectors who can help Americans connect with nature.
Pay close attention to—and respond to—adults’ existing concerns about younger generations’ disconnection from nature
Most Americans already know there’s a gap between their interest in nature and the way they live their lives. Listen closely to how particular communities and groups experience disconnection from nature—and how they seek to adjust their lifestyles in response.
Emphasize regular, recurrent, and routine engagement with nature, the outdoors, and wildlife
To secure the benefits of contact with nature, experiences must be repeated and happen often at home, school, work, and play.
For adults and children, promote nature not only as a place for experiences, but also as a place for involvement and care
For adults and children alike, connection to nature seems to emerge when they involve themselves in exploring, caring, observing, learning, and visiting repeatedly. We encourage programs to promote highly engaging activities and to provide opportunities for Americans to take responsibility for the natural world in appropriate ways and settings.
Assure adults and children that time in nature can be (and even ought to be) social
The default design and promotion of programs and natural areas should nurture opportunities for people to forge connections with nature together.
Recruit pre-existing groups to programs
Instead of merely inviting individuals to participate in a program or activity, recruit pre-existing groups—groups of people who are already connected to one another through a common interest, activity, or lifestyle.
Reach adults through children
Encourage parents and other trusted adults to participate in activities together with children, since this ends up deepening adults’ own connection to nature.
Support mentorship that extends beyond the parent–child relationship
Parents are important, but so too are spouses and partners, grandparents, aunts and uncles, friends, cousins, nieces and nephews, and more.
Carefully consider how different sectors promote what “good” connection with nature is or ought to be
Americans (especially adults) need to be assured that connection to nature can happen in their local community. It doesn't take a long, expensive trip away from home.
Deepen local experiences in nature near home
Work to deepen Americans’ existing interests in nature-related recreational activities in close-to-home places. Given that adults tend to think of "pure" or "authentic" nature as geographically distant, more engaging experiences close to home could help to bring out the beauty, wonder, and complexity of the natural world around them.
For children and adults, use geographically local or familiar activities as a bridge to geographically distant or unfamiliar activities
Existing interests in particular activities can be translated into new interests in different activities. Particular potential is available at nature-education centers like zoos and aquariums, which are popular among both children and adults.
Provide socially safe and satisfying places outdoors, especially for urban and minority adults and children
Spend time and effort listening to the particular concerns that may be present in specific locations and among specific groups. For example, Americans were generally dissatisfied with parks and open spaces that had traffic, speeding vehicles, dangerous people, and noise. Other concerns included the lack of opportunities to explore and to find peacefulness.
Work to lower the perceived costs of participation in recreational activities
Many presume high-quality nature experiences have to take place in remote, hard-to-reach places. Activities that take place more locally, such as taking a walk outdoors or watching or feeding birds and other wildlife did not evoke the same perceptions of inaccessibility. They prompt more interest from an array of adults.
Promote experiences in nature that match Americans’ multidimensional values of nature
Experiences and programs that teach only formal knowledge about the natural world speak to only one way Americans interact with and enjoy nature. Experiences and programs can provide opportunities for affection, for intellectual and spiritual development, for responding to the power of the natural world, and more.
Broaden programming to include a range of outcomes
Programs can help participants to achieve a variety of outcomes beyond acquiring knowledge. These could include feeling peaceful, linking groups together, recalling memories, and passing on skills to others.
For adults, promote conservation efforts as a way to improve their overall community and quality of life
Many Americans link their satisfaction with their community with their perception of the state of the environment around them.
Set clear goals and objectives
Members of various sectors should clearly define what exactly they are trying to do, affect, or accomplish, and how they anticipate their efforts will influence that particular outcome.
Question “one-size-fits-all” and “silver-bullet” diagnoses and prognoses
Connection to nature often looks and operates profoundly differently across places and groups. Achieving particular outcomes requires understanding what works and why.
Be explicit about common assumptions, and consider revising them
Assumptions abound about who members of the public are and how they think, feel, and act. Many of these assumptions are wrong, unhelpful, or applicable only in certain situations.
Use differences across age and stages of life to tailor programs and policies
Different ages and stages in life profoundly affect Americans' interests, values, and behaviors. Programs and policies should respond to these differences appropriately.
Clearly state, trace, test, and analyze causal pathways
Carefully verify why and how particular programs or strategies were successful. Robust, nuanced social science research and evaluation is a crucial component of any effort to connect Americans and nature.
Join parents, children, and adults alike in recognizing that expenditures on children’s engagement with nature are fundamentally important investments
Parents, children, and adults already recognize the importance of contact with nature. Policies, strategies, and legislation should match what the American public values.
Build partnerships among professionals in healthcare, education, urban planning, conservation, community development, and other sectors
The barriers to connecting Americans and nature are massive. Overcoming them requires deepening existing partnerships and forging new ones across a variety of sectors, fields, and organizations.