The Importance of Playing in Nature for Children
By Sinead Hamill
The ‘X-Box Generation’, ‘Stranger Danger’, protective parenting and a shortage of safe, clean playing spaces are just some of the reasons children are not outside playing in nature as much as they should be. As carers of children, we may prefer to keep them safe within the views of our watchful eyes but are this sedentary generation of children suffering as a result of the way society is going?
Obesity, Attention Deficit Disorder, misbehaviours, weaker physical skills and co-ordination, inhibited creativity and a lack of social skills are some of the worrying trends arising amongst children today. Are our children innocent victims, made to suffer the consequences of a “progressive society” led primarily by us adults? Are we taking them further and further away from where our species has been growing and adapting throughout evolution? It appears so!
On the positive side, we are now aware of this and so have the power to do something about it. Let’s first remind ourselves of some of the amazingly powerful benefits of spending time in nature:
Immunity Booster - Studies have shown that regular time spent in the great outdoors reduces stress levels, perhaps by reminding us there is a bigger picture to consider and enjoy. There also seems to be a co-relation between engaging in regular outdoor activities and an increased number of white blood cells in our bodies, helping to protect us from diseases.
Improved Concentration – Attention Deficit problems and fatigue seem to be relieved from time spent outdoors. Children especially, need time and freedom to engage in exploration and large-motor activities. Their bodies are going through rapid growth, strengthening and conditioning. Once they have satisfied this need they will be better able to concentrate on smaller tasks and mental activities.
Healthy Habits – Children who experience growing their own food outside are more likely to eat fruit and vegetables. Playing outside encourages them to engage in energetic physical activities, which helps keep them fit and at a healthy weight. Absorbing vitamin D from the sun will help strengthen their growing bones.
Creativity and Problem Solving – Children are blessed with a natural sense of awe and wonder about the world they live in. Granting them time outside and leaving them to their own devices, gives them the chance to explore, form ideas and hypothesis, become confident making discoveries and experience challenges which require them to use decision making skills. Qualities such as these will stand to them when they are older, in the ever progressive entrepreneurial work trend we are currently witnessing.
Better Social Skills – Children are more likely to get creative and express their true natures when they are playing outside. Often they create games from nothing, learning lessons such as the need for rules and fair play. Some children may find themselves in the role of group leader, others, team-players, but each will discover what they can bring to ensure the success of the activities. Playing outside helps children to develop the skills needed for successful communication such as making eye-contact and listening and responding, which they wouldn’t experience to the same extent, whilst distracted playing video games, watching t.v. and the likes, indoors.
If you care to research this topic further you will undoubtedly discover more benefits associated with spending time in nature. However, even if you are only reacting to this article I would urge you to think about and create more opportunities for the
children in your care to experience outdoor play.
Ways to Achieve this:
If safety is an issue, do your best to create an outdoor play space with a variety of learning opportunities. You could include sand and water play, muck and green areas with trees to climb and gardening opportunities, with tools at their disposal, playground swing and climbing sets, etc.
Bring your child to a variety of outdoor environments including the beach, park, playgrounds, go for forest and mountain walks etc. Remember time outside is good for you too!
If you can, enrol your children in community groups and activities such as sports teams, scouts, camps etc. If this doesn’t work for you however, try to at least accumulate a supply of cheap sports equipment such as balls, hoola hoops and skipping ropes and arrange play dates with friends.
As you can see, where there is a will, there is a way! One last thing I will ask you to seriously consider however, is outdoor safety. As adults and protectors of children, it is our duty to educate children on the possible dangers associated with outdoor play, including ‘stranger-danger’, water-safety, road safety, proper use of play-equipment, safety in numbers etc. It is important that children experience freedom and independence but it is also important to regulate, monitor and grant them this at a rate suited to their stage of development and knowledge.
Now in case you’ve forgotten just how good it feels, why not treat yourself to some invigorating time in the great outdoors. After-all, there’s a kid in all of us just dying to get out!