Playing outdoors in nature can benefit your children intellectually, socially, emotionally, and physically. In this article, find out how and discover activities to help nurture their development.
Spending time in nature isn’t just a thing of the past before tablets and smart phones. Spending time in the fresh air, climbing trees, exploring, building dens and playing games outdoors with friends come with a plethora of benefits for growing minds and bodies. These fun activities help build our brains, bodies, and characters for later life. Research has shown that nature exposure has numerous long-term benefits on physical and mental wellbeing.
What Are the Benefits of Playing in a Natural Environment?
Outdoor play fosters children's intellectual, emotional, social, and physical development. By being outside and surrounded by nature, children experience an ever-changing and free-flowing environment that stimulates all their senses.
The natural world is a giant, open-ended learning laboratory. Many children are innate scientists and love to experience the sights, scents, sounds, and textures of the outdoors. Nature provides countless opportunities for discovery, creativity, problem-solving, and STEM education.
Interacting with natural environments allows children to learn by 'doing' and experiment with ideas. In nature, children think, question, and make hypotheses which all help in developing inquisitive minds. Whether they're judging the distance between two rocks before jumping or considering where insects go in the winter, children are constantly thinking when they're in nature. These experiences offer real, authentic learning like nothing else can. Also, as children take risks, try, and fail, and try again, they gain resilience and confidence.
Here are some brain-building nature activities for children:
Being outside feels good. Children are free to explore, move about, and make noise, all delightful forms of self-expression that are often restricted indoors. In nature, children can run, jump, hop, skip, climb, roll, and shout, which relaxes and reduces tension, anxiety, and restlessness.
Furthermore, nature enhances a sense of peace and often brings out nurturing qualities in children. Many energetic children slow down to dig a hole in the sand, watch a ladybug crawl, or spend focused time playing with a stick in a mud puddle. Several studies have found that exposure to nature can reduce symptoms of ADHD and anxiety.
When children play outdoors there may be opportunities to interact with new and different playmates. In nature, children can play alone or connect with one another, learn to share, and problem solve. In the natural world, children often collaborate to make up games and rules because there are no prescribed sets of instructions. When exploring outside, school-age children may not be near adults, which gives them time to make up their own rules and solve their own problems without inhibition.
Often, when involved in the natural world, even boisterous, active children may slow down and learn to focus on being gentle. They also may develop empathy and reach out to console a friend who seems hurt or sad.
The fresh air of the natural world is invigorating and offers endless opportunities for physical activity, which, in turn, builds strong bodies. Exposure to sunlight means children absorb vitamin D which has many positive benefits, including contributing to a strong immune system and healthy bones.
Outdoor play also allows a child to be more physically active than indoor play, potentially burning more calories and contributing positively to a child's overall health and fitness.
Physical outdoor activities might include:
And what's good for children is also good for parents, so don't refrain from joining in. Nothing beats going for a walk, crossing a stream on stepping stones, drawing out and playing hopscotch together, or going for a family scoot or bike ride. Providing a reasonable balance of risk and safety is the job of parents, and providing some level of challenge allows children to learn new skills.
In addition to the individual benefits gained by being connected to nature, there is a collective benefit shared by all of us. Children all over the world play outside, creating a unity of shared experiences. In order to raise adults who are passionate about protecting the environment and preserving our planet, they must first develop a deep love for it. A brilliant way to enable children to grow comfortable in nature is to open the door and let them out to explore the wonder and awe of the natural world.