Nature makes people happy, that’s what it sort of means:’ children’s definitions and perceptions of nature in rural Northwestern Ontario
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Nature exposure positively impacts children’s physical, socio-emotional, and cognitive health and development. We know less about how children perceive their connection with nature and what nature means to them. This study uses focus groups to understand how rural Canadian children define, experience, and perceive benefits of nature. Using thematic analysis, we identified three primary themes. First, while children associate nature with specific activities, natural elements, and locations, they also conceptualize nature as ‘a whole community.’ Second, children experienced nature through doing, highlighting how activities connected them with nature while recognizing constraints on those engagements. Finally, children demonstrated agency in accessing nature to improve their emotional states. These findings indicate that from children’s views, nature is more than just space with natural elements. Children are also knowledgeable about the health benefits of nature, and capitalize on this knowledge. These findings can inform interventions to increase children’s interactions with outdoor environments.