Mental Health, Well-Being, and Access to Nature at School: A Review of Change at the Toronto District School Board
Access to nature and spending time outdoors can improve students' mental health and well-being, whereas deprivation from nature can have deleterious effects. Many authors, scholars, and researchers have noted the physical, emotional, developmental, and academic benefits of connecting with nature. This research aims to identify and support connections between mental health and environmental education within the formal school system, in order to draw attention to beneficial outcomes that may result when nature is seen as a vital component of learning and growing in childhood. The main goal of this research is to integrate the goals of environmental education and mental health policies by drawing upon ecopsychology, which centralizes the symbiotic and therapeutic relationships between humans and nature. Methods are comprised of an interdisciplinary literature review combined with a discourse analysis of primary documents from the Toronto District School Board, the Ontario Ministry of Education, and the Ontario EcoSchools programs. Based on the literature and emergent topics from these policies, findings are discussed in the form of six key themes that encapsulate the potential connections between mental health and environmental education at school. These are: literacy, stewardship, school ground naturalization, safety, resilience, and school culture and pedagogy. This research suggests there is now the space and momentum needed to shift new instances of discourse towards a worldview based on inclusivity, not separation from nature. This paper concludes by highlighting the untapped potential of a pedagogical approach to education that acknowledges the interdependence of human and ecological well-being, for the development of a healthy and sustainable future.