Benefits of Nature Play for Children
What is nature play in the first place?
To us nature is everywhere around us: right outside our front door or in the backyard, tree line and wildflowers on the side of the road, local parks and trails, etc. Nature play is a variety of unstructured activities kids end up immersing themselves in when outside: taking an up-close look at a flower, exploring leaves, throwing rocks into a pond or a stream, puddle jumping, playing hide-and-seek, and so much more. Bottom line, nature play is about kids' self-directed play "with" nature.
Why is it important and what are the benefits of nature play?
You may be shocked to know that on average children in America spend only 4 - 7 minutes daily outside. In comparison, kids spend over 7 hours a day staring at a screen. While we can't expect modern day children to not use technology, and technology isn't all bad at all, these statistics are alarming to say the least. Outside play isn't only fun and something kids enjoy, it's a necessity, especially for the little ones. Most researchers would confirm that kids who spend sufficient time outdoors are happier and healthier.
The benefits cannot be overstated:
- Improved gross and fine motor skills: nature offers an abundance of activities and opportunities for kids to practice and refine these skills - from picking up and collecting small objects to running and jumping on uneven terrain. Traditional playground does not provide nearly the range of possibilities for physical development. Regular nature play is one of the best ways to ensure kids get the physical activity they need each day to prevent childhood obesity, which unfortunately is so prevalent these days. Based on the recent data, over 19% of kids in the United States are considered obese.
- Improved focus and attention: regular physical outdoor activity helps kids focus better. It is especially important and beneficial for children with ADHD. When surveyed, parents report that their children are much calmer and focused after outdoor time.
- Abundance of learning and developmental opportunities: no other environment provides as much stimulation of all senses, opportunities for discovery for naturally curious kids like nature does. The diversity simply cannot be replicated in the artificially created environments. And why would anyone try when the greatest possibilities to nurture developing minds are right outside the door! Outdoors offers great opportunities for kids to engage problem-solving and critical thinking skills that are so critical for their futurex, as well as creativity and imagination. Also, spending substantial amount of time in nature in early years leads to increased interest in environmental sciences later in life.
- Increased confidence and sense of responsibility: unstructured nature play offers a variety of opportunities for trial and error, boosting kids' resilience and level of confidence as they complete challenging tasks and develop mastery. Spending time outdoors also gives children exposure to various kinds of living organisms and opportunities to learn what it takes for them to function and stay alive. Kids learn cause and effect and how the environment around them works, developing a greater sense of responsibility. Growing a garden and getting your kids to help with taking care of it is a fantastic learning opportunity, one that not only helps instill that sense of responsibility, but also encourages healthy eating. Studies show that kids that participate in growing and preparing food are significantly more likely to eat healthy foods.
- Reduced stress levels and improved self-regulation: studies confirm when kids are exposed to greenery and nature, they are much less likely to be stressed and develop an improved ability to regulate their emotions. You don't even have to be a scientist to observe the calming effect nature has on all people. Next time your children are having a hard time, take them outside, no matter the weather. You will notice a big difference right away.
With all the benefits nature play provides for our children, it is important for us as parents to be intentional about building outdoor time into our daily routine as much as possible. It will make a positive difference not just on the children, but us parents as well.
There are a variety of good free as well as paid resources available to help you with fun outdoor activity ideas that also have developmental benefits. For example, Our Days Outside is one of those resources, offering great ideas for outdoor activities, free and paid printables, and more.
Does your family prioritize regular outdoor play?