Provided by Mike James, working together with Bloo House Forest School. It’s a fact; children spend less time outdoors and more time in front of a screen than ever before. One of the most worrying, reported observations over the past few years is how children are under pressure to grow up too quickly. The internet, a constant stream of children’s programmes on TV (in fact whole channels devoted to them), and social media are a constant source of peer pressure for children, as well as a battleground for parents.
Whatever happened to splashing in muddy puddles, making mud pies and climbing trees? And it’s not about getting nostalgic. We can’t escape the fact that children today are growing up in a significantly different world than that of previous generations. We have to ask ourselves if we are ignoring an important aspect of our children’s well being? The experts keep telling us that engaging children with nature has huge benefits for their development. Parents are resisting the idea that children can go off and play in the local park or woods on their own. It’s a question of safety (justified worries about traffic and a disproportionate fear of strangers). In the modern world children are deemed to require constant supervision, and busy working lives are making outdoor play a squeezed priority.
Richard Louv has written extensively on the subject of children being deprived of nature, and coined the phrase ‘Nature Deficit Disorder.’ It’s not a medical condition, but his idea that nature is essential to our wellbeing is corroborated by much recent research. Louv’s latest work extends the conversation to adults. “What could our lives and our children’s lives be like if our days and nights were as immersed in nature as they are in technology?” It’s a haunting question, but one that needs asking. While childhood virtual boundaries are pushing appropriate, physical boundaries are shrinking at an alarming rate. Isn’t it time we redressed the balance?
We’ve compiled 7 reasons why nature is important for your child’s development and well-being, and 7 ways to get nature back on the agenda.
7 reasons why nature is important for your child’s development
- Play in nature helps children to develop creative play and problem-solving skills. Outdoor spaces are less structured and more varied than indoor spaces, which stimulates creative thinking.
- Natural play enhances children’s ability to focus and concentrate.
- Nature-based experiential play improves academic performance.
- For children with Attention Deficit Disorder outdoor play in a natural setting can significantly reduce symptoms.
- Unstructured outdoor play is known to improve social relations. Sharing, negotiation and leadership are important skills children can learn through this style of activities.
- Playing outside increases physical exercise and improves co-ordination. In natural environments children will encounter rough ground and a range of obstacles, which they have to learn to negotiate.
- Engaging with nature develops a relationship between the child and the environment, supporting environmental consciousness.
7 ways to get nature back on the agenda
- School grounds offer hope with many educational establishments acknowledging the benefits of nature and outdoor play. Natural play areas within the school grounds are on the increase, alongside vegetable patches and other nature projects. Forest Schools are also becoming popular, offering regular outdoor learning experiences in a woodland environment.
- Fruit or vegetable picking is a great way of taking a trip outdoors. It has an educational slant, teaching your kids about where food comes from, and has the added bonus of a basket of produce to take home.
- Get an allotment, a veg patch or even a container to grow some peas in. No matter how small your outside area, teaching your child about food and growing it is a fun on-going project.
- Bike rides or hikes can feel like a lot of effort, but they are rewarded with a sense of achievement. It’s a great way for the family to get some exercise and blow away the cobwebs.
- Woodland den building is a wonderful way of engaging your children with the outdoors. The Woodland Trust and the Wildlife Trust run den building and bushcraft courses. Or go it alone and take a trip to your local woodland with friends. It’s a great way of getting some shaded outdoor play on a hot day, or just for some fresh air in the autumn/winter. Take a flask of hot chocolate and snacks for the den builders!
- An overnight camp, or if you are adventurous enough longer, can’t be a more exciting way of experiencing the outdoors. Toast marshmallows on sticks over the camp fire – come on, it doesn’t get better than that.
- Change your mind-set. We are programmed to think of outdoor play as leisure time, when as part of the whole family’s well-being it should perhaps have a more serious consideration. Viewing nature as essential to good health means we are more likely to make it a priority for our kids.
And one final piece of advice – resist the urge to micromanage your child’s outdoor play experiences. Just observe and enjoy.
Until Next Time… Charlotte x