Background: This article outlines the protocol for a trial to test the effectiveness of a nature-based intervention called Open Sky School to reduce mental health problems among elementary school children. Experimental studies show that contact with nature (e.g. walks in parks) improve mental health. A growing number of teachers have been applying outdoor education within the regular school curriculum and evidence suggests that such teaching methods could improve students' mental health but a randomized controlled trial has never been conducted.
Methods: A two-arm clustered randomized controlled trial will be conducted in elementary schools across Québec, Canada. Following informed consent by teachers, parents and students, schools will be randomly assigned 1:1 to the intervention or the control group with a total of 2500 5-6th grade students and 100 teachers expected to participate. The intervention will take place outdoors in a green-space (2 h per week for 12 weeks) and include a toolkit of 30 activities to foster well-being (e.g. mindfulness) and academic competencies (e.g. mathematics). Questionnaires will be administered to teachers and students before, immediately after and 3 months after the intervention. The primary outcome will be reductions of mental health problems in children from pre-to-post test (Social Behavior Questionnaire: self and teacher reports). Secondary outcomes include depression, positive and negative affect, nature connectedness, and pro-environmental behaviors among children. We will explore, immediate benefits on teacher's well-being and positive and negative affect and sustained benefits among students at 3 months follow-up. For the primary outcome, we will explore moderators including child's sex, child's disability status, the green-space of neighbourhoods, the school's socio-economic position and teacher's experience.
Discussion: In conducting the first randomized controlled trial of the Open Sky School, our results could provide empirical evidence on the effectiveness of nature-based interventions in reducing mental health problems among elementary school children.
Trial registration: This study was registered with clinicaltrials.gov: NCT05662436 on December 22, 2022.
Keywords: Children; Elementary-school children; Greenspace; Mental health; Nature; Outdoor education; Randomized controlled trial; School-based intervention.
© 2023. The Author(s).