I like to think of the outdoors as a reset button for my kids. But, as you’ll see below, that’s seriously underselling it!
Because it does a whole lot more than just help them start over if they are in a bad mood. We can all tie ourselves up in knots in our lives, from small things that get under our skin, to the major, life defining things that are the unavoidable shrapnel of existence. Some days we feel strong in the face of these trials or frustrations, while other days we feel knee deep in molasses.
And our children are no different.
Just like us, their lives ebb and flow and they must learn to adapt. They need somewhere to learn, both to challenge them into honing vital skills, and anchor them through the ups and downs of childhood. Nature has an uncanny knack of reminding us we are small in the context of creation, and that makes our problems seem smaller and more manageable somehow.
Humans have evolved surrounded by Nature for millions of years so it’s not surprising that being back with Nature sooths us somewhere deep inside our brains. Human children were those wild tiger cubs we see in David Attenborough documentaries, exploring their surroundings and learning through playing together.
Life for children has changed rapidly over the past thirty years. The demands of school and after school activities soak up their free time, and at the same time parental fears curbs the freedom children once enjoyed. The result is our children have less and less opportunity to connect with what’s naturally within them in their cub years. We may sometimes be adrift from it, and other times turn our back on it completely, but we can never erase the need for a connection with Nature in children's young lives.
10 BENEFITS OF OUTSIDE PLAY PROVEN BY SCIENTIFIC STUDIES
1. Physically healthier children
Children who play outside are more physically active because the environment demands it of them. It’s just not possible for them to sit still when what’s around them changes in a way that challenges all their senses and draws them forward. This higher activity level while outdoors helps manage several health issues from obesity to diabetes.
Kids who spend regular time outdoors are shown to be sick less often and in times of Pandemic, being outdoors in fresh air is promoted as highly preferable to breathing in the recirculated air indoors. Direct sunlight on children’s skin produces higher levels of vitamin D, which is a key contributor for developing bones and immune systems. Indeed, the Pandemic has prompted research into the potential for Vitamin D to improve a bodies defense against Covid 19.
2. Engage all the senses
Children engage all five of their senses when they play outdoors. This kick starts their brain processes into making those neurotransmitter connections that are critical to a child's development. Kids build connections through play and interacting with the unpredictable environment around them.
3. Better performance & outcomes in school
Children with nature-rich schoolyards to play in have been reported to be calmer, pay more attention to their teachers, have higher concentration and perform better in school exams.
4. Emotionally stronger & calmer
Studies have shown that children who spend time in green settings, outdoors in nature, experienced milder overall symptoms of ADHD.
Exposure to Nature has also been shown to help kids be more emotionally strong, with higher resilience to cope with and process life as they grow. It can also help them release tension and worry.
Children can often feel cooped up or overwhelmed by the limited space indoors. When they spend time outdoors, this feeling evaporates and the physical space to move and breathe often results in a child being more willing to open up and talk about things with their parent or caregiver than when they are indoors.
5. Highly developed motor skills
Children who play regularly in natural environments tend to have highly developed motor skills - such as agility, balance and coordination. They also develop their skills in risk assessment and overcoming challenges, problem solving, reasoning and creating imaginative solutions to obstacles they may face while outdoors.
6. Promotes healthy eating and lifestyle
Children who learn how to garden have been shown to eat more fruit and vegetables and are more likely to lead a healthy lifestyle later in life.
Being outside also helps many children with their appetite, to sleep better and be in a generally better mood.
7. Develop teamwork & get on better in their friendships
Children who play outside engage in more imaginative games and teamwork naturally flows from interacting more with other children. As a result, they learn about following the rules of games, creating rules, turn taking, and how to get on well with others through finding common ground.
8. Appreciation of Nature and the environment
Children who grow up having regular contact with the natural world are more likely to develop a lifelong love for nature and care to preserve it.
By spending a lot of time outdoors, they experience nature first-hand and begin to recognise a feeling of satisfaction and contentment when out there. This fondness for Nature stays with them as they enter adulthood and they have more awareness and empathy for Nature, and preserving our natural world, in their adult live.
9. Better eyesight because of exposure to natural light
Children who play outside have been shown to suffer less near-sightedness and are less likely to need eyeglasses.
This is because they get an adequate amount of exposure to UV-B sun rays to kick start a range of reactions in the body to protect their eyes. Researchers believe that children spending too much time indoors can hasten the cause of near-sightedness in children and adults. In recent studies, scientists are now predicting a large rise in children needing glasses due to the limited time they spend outdoors.
10. Develop a sense of independence
Children who play outdoors learn to explore by themselves, rely on themselves and develop a sense of independence. They experience a sense of freedom when outdoors, even with parents or guardians nearby, that they do not experience indoors.
This breeds a confidence and reliance on themselves which is a key part to their growth into independent and capable young people. Risk taking, in a controlled and safe environment, is a necessary part of their development. Being outdoors give kids the chance to explore the range and the limits of their capabilities in a way that can be monitored by adults from afar.
As they assess the situation, asking themselves, “can I jump to the other side of this flooded path”, they are assessing risk, problem solving and relying on themselves.
The bottom line
The benefits from outdoor play for all our kids, from babies right up to 18 year old, are so far reaching that I find it simplifies my life. Any time that I have convinced my own kids to get out into the garden to play, I know with certainty that’s a job well done.
And it’s a Win: Win for all involved -
My kids are happy, growing, and developing in all sorts of ways, and it’s Nature that’s doing that job for me!