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A Nature Based Program to Foster Positive Child Development

Sailing: A Nature Base Intervention Fostering Adolescent Development

Recent studies in the field of positive psychology have demonstrated the salutogenesis action of the direct contact with nature, now emphasizing the importance of the nature in human development.

The Self-Determination Theory (SDT), on the other hand, has valued the importance of human’s three basic psychological needs fulfillment in human’s development, wellbeing and growth, (Ryan & Deci, 2017). The satisfaction of those needs is recognized as an important prerequisite of any academic, environmental motivation. (Ryan & Deci, 2017).

Sailing, a nature base activity can take the latest findings in the theories of Positive Psychology into the frame of an outdoor experience to foster adolescent development.

Indeed, the Sailing intervention will act as a foundation for both building on the biological need for nature connection, called “Biophilia” (Wilson, 1984) and for feeding children’s’ three basics psychological needs for Autonomy, Competencies and Relatedness, (Ryan & Deci, 2017).

- Autonomy Benefits -

To Ryan and Deci (2017) supporting one’s person need for autonomy can foster attachment security. It can encourage curiosity as well as growth.

Autonomous children will feel able to be who they really are and to act authentically.

As to Ryan and Deci (2017), the authenticity will lead to higher levels of extraversion, agreeableness, openness, and conscientiousness.

Participating in a sailing trip has been proved to increase participants self-esteem, (Kafka, et al, 2012). In being authentic children will raise their sense of identity and built on their self-esteem. Self-esteem affects emotional experiences, as such it has the power to modify future behavior and to foster psychological adjustment. (Zyl, Cronje, & Payze, 2006).

Moreover, autonomous people tend to see improvement in their relationships with others. By enabling each person to act freely, autonomy give people the chance to be themselves, the confidence that they will be appreciated as they are. As a result, autonomous people tend to express themselves without filters and more genuinely with their peers, (Ryan & Deci, 2017).

- Competency Benefits -

The children experience of competency will lead to greater wellbeing. The sense of self-efficacy will increase their willingness to seek challenges. People will seek to sustain and further develop their skills and capacities. (Deci & Ryan, 2002).

Through the continuous feedback given to children over the different role tasks on the boat, the coach will foster a master-oriented approach, where children will come to trust that through enhanced efforts and perseverance they will overcome any failure. (Dweck, 2013).

Through this competency gain, children will develop the cognitive skills that are necessary to overcome setbacks. They will learn from mistakes and show perseverance, as they commit to work towards a better future, they will learn about resilience (Dweck, 2013).

- Relatedness Benefits -

The feel of being cared for and connected to, has been shown to enhance people sense of curiosity and resilience (Arend, Gove, & Sroufe, 1979).

To Waters, Wippman, & Sroufe, (1979) relatedness will enhance people competencies. Indeed, being supported and trusted encourage one’s agency (Stevenson & Lamb, 1981) and elicit the inner feel of being full of resources (Brody, 1956). As children’s experience relatedness, they tend to feel more secure which allow them to explore the outer world confidently (Ryan & Deci, 2017).

Moreover, as children get to share quality time together, listening to each other personal story and experience, they feel cared for and as such will open-up to others.

Children will also be more willing to turn to others for help. This call for help presents a healthier dependence and greater emotional resilience. (Ryan & Deci, 2017)

- Nature Benefits -

In the sailing context that engage children in connecting with nature the benefits will raise on multiple dimensions. Indeed, as to Kellert (2005), a direct contact with nature supports both the academic, intellectual, emotional, social, spiritual and physical development.

At Academic level

· Improves academic performance: Nature-based experiential education in the US has demonstrated significant student gains in social studies, science, language arts, and math. (Cooper, 2015).

At Intellectual level

· Supports creativity and problem solving: Children learning and playing in nature develop intellectual capacities as well as creativity and problem-solving (Kellert, 2005).

· Enhances cognitive skills: Being closed to nature and exposed to natural settings enhance children’s ability to focus as well as their cognitive abilities (Wells, 2000).

· Reduces symptoms of the Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD): ADD Symptoms reduces as children get to experience nature connectedness. (Kuo & Taylor, 2004).

At Emotional/Social level

· Improves social relations: Free and unstructured play in the out-of-doors provide children with a greater sense of others. They show smarter social behaviors, feel healthier and happier (Burdette & Whitaker, 2005).

· Improves self-discipline: Peace, self-control and self-discipline within inner city youth, and particularly in girls, has significantly increased through the access or view of nature (Taylor, Kuo, & Sullivan, 2001).

At Physical level

· Increases physical activity: Children who have been exposed to nature throughout their learning are physically more active (Bell & Dyment, 2008).

· Improves nutrition: Children who grow their own food, plants, fruits, vegetables are more aware and cautious about nutrition (Koch, Waliczek, & Zajicek, 2006). They are more likely to eat healthy (Bell & Dyment, 2008). These healthy habits tend to persist later in life (Morris & Zidenberg-Cherr, 2002).

· Improves eyesight: Children spending more time outdoor, experience less myopia (nearsightedness), (Rose, et al., 2008).

· Reduces stress: Stressed children have significantly reduced their level of stress after just a walk or a view of nature (Wells & Evans, 2003).


Nature connection has profound positive consequences on human’s health, and the sailing project is an opportunity to both reconnect children to nature and to nurture their need for autonomy, competency and relatedness which are core conditions to their growth and flourishing.

Not only can sailing, as a nature-based intervention, act as a foundation for adolescents' fundamental biological need fulfillment, but as children come to know nature both within themselves and experience the interconnectedness and interdependence between it and them, they will probably choose to live in ways that support all life forms.

As a result, on top of setting the psychological foundation for human growth, it is most probable that such experience can profoundly nurture future adulthood eco responsibility and caring behaviors towards nature.

- LM


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