A survey conducted in the UK revealed that over half of British adults found that their fondest childhood memories involved play and exploration outdoors. In recent times, there have been some concerns raised surrounding the smaller amounts of time that children are spending outside in contrast to the larger amounts of time spent engaging with a screen. Associate Professor Jane Dyment from Tasmania states that ‘there is a mountain of international research that points to the benefits of nature play for young children,’ yet terms like ‘nature deficit disorder’ have crept into our modern-day vocabulary to describe a lacking in nature experiences for children.
Being outside and in nature is beneficial for everyone. It can certainly help to manage stress, strengthen the immune system and brighten your mood. Research tells us that being in nature can reduce feelings of anger, lower blood pressure, relieve muscle tension…and even reduce mortality (Bowler, Buyung-Ali, Knight & Pullin, 2010). It can also sooth and restore mental wellbeing as it provides a kind of respite for overactive minds that are in need of a rest.
When in nature, we naturally begin to pay greater attention to our sense – enjoying the sights, sounds and smells around us. In essence, being in nature is a very simple mindfulness exercise that anyone can do. Given these amazing benefits for adults, it is not difficult to understand the profound impact that nature play can have on a developing child.
Playing outside will have benefits to your child in relation to almost every area of their development. It will benefit them cognitively, socially, emotionally and physically – and these benefits can be immediate as well as long-term. Young children are innate scientists and engineers who love problem solving. Their natural inquisitiveness causes them to wonder, think and question the world around them. Interacting with natural environments allows children opportunities for real and authentic learning and gives them the chance to take risks that build their resilience and confidence as learners.
It is no secret that being outside feels good, but there are some other surprising benefits as well. Research indicates that when in nature, children tend to use a greater number of words and also the complexity of their language increases. This means that children’s experiences in nature have a very direct impact on the quality of their speech and language (Richardson & Murray, 2017). In a world where more and more children are requiring intervention support for their speech development, this is very interesting. Could getting out and about in nature be an effective intervention strategy for supporting speech development? – the research seems to think so.
Giving children opportunities to feel connected to nature will have benefits for us as a human race as well as for our planet. When you love nature, you desire to protect and care for it. Teaching children how wonderful nature is will support our next and future generations to do their bit for our planet.
If you are looking for some simple ways to give your child more exposure to nature, here are some simple suggestions:
- Create a small garden. It doesn’t need to be big and you can use pots if space is an issue.
- Spend some time cloud gazing or listening to birds sing.
- Go on a scavenger hunt – collect interesting leaves, seeds or rocks.
- Go on a mini-best hunt and take pictures of all the creatures you find.
- Spend the day at the beach or exploring a walking trail.
- Potion or stew making with mud, leaves and other natural treasures – young children just love this!
- Go on a picnic in a local park.
- Create some nature art.
- Have a backyard camp out.
There are so many ways that you can start enjoying nature today. As Alfred Wainwright once said, ‘there’s no such thing as bad weather, only unsuitable clothing’. Embrace the elements and get outside with your child today – nature is calling you!
Bowler, D. Buyung-Ali, L. Knight, T & Pullin, A. 2010, A systematic review of evidence for the added benefits to health of exposure to natural environments. BMC Publice Health, Vol. 10, PP. 456
Richardson, T. & Murray, J. 2017, Are young chidlren’s utterances affected by characteristic of their learning environments? A multiple case study. Early Child Development and Care, Vol. 187, No. 3-4, PP. 457-468.