How many of us remember the joy we felt when we played ‘make-believe’ in our backyard or the local park, or squelched about in mud when it rained? With the time pressures of today and concerns for children’s safety, spending time outside has become something we need to plan and supervise—but the benefits are well worth the effort. Below is some insightful information into the benefits of outdoor play from Nature Play QLD and the University of North Carolina.
1. Nature brings the best out of children
It’s estimated that children today spend 56 per cent more time indoors than playing outside.
In theory, playing indoors appears easy because we don’t have to worry about sun, snow, rain, strangers, etc. But this controlled environment limits a child’s potential. The benefits of playing in nature are almost infinite. Spending time in nature keeps children’s minds fresh. It exposes them to varying situations where they are forced to learn and adapt to best fit themselves into the prevailing conditions. For instance, playing in uneven heights, conditions and surfaces helps children to hone their coordination and balancing skills.
2. Stops the vanishing freedom
In today’s age and time, it’s easy for parents to dwell on thoughts of dangers and the risks of outdoor play. In fact, more children get seriously injured falling from their bed than playing outdoors. It’s worth reflecting on the impact that is being passed on to children if parents fear the outdoors. Childhood should be filled with healthy outdoor risks and adventure.
3. Increases resilience and ability to negotiate risks
Climbing on trees or other objects helps children understand the risks involved in the process; they become better at risk assessment. Even if children sustain a minor injury, something in them grows. They also learn problem-solving skills, and they develop a deeper appreciation towards physical sports.
4. Social benefits
When children step outside, they get plenty of opportunities to interact with other playmates. In nature, they can connect with others, help each other, share their learning and solve problems together. Children often collaborate to have the best experience. They might also find a friend to reach out to when consoling themselves during times of need. Moreover, it helps children to act freely, while not escaping their responsibilities.
5. Physical and mental benefits
The outdoor environments that we see on television can be far different in the real world. So, the only way to truly experience nature to the fullest is to step outside—from the singing birds, buzzing bees, the taste of wild berries and beautiful sunsets, to the other quieter miracles. No electronic device can replace the natural association with Mother Nature.
Direct association with nature has both mental and physical benefits. It has also been proven to improve mood, and reduce depression and mental fatigue. Children who are involved in regular outdoor play benefit from increased flexibility and gross motor skills. More outdoor time also improves vision and reduces body inflammation.
6. Promotes ‘smartness’
It’s already proven that nature provides children with a buffer from stress. One 2015 study in California, involving 60 participants, showed how walking in nature can eliminate stress. It can also promote ‘smartness’ in children.
Spending time in nature and outdoors improves children’s ability to focus and concentrate. Studies in the US show that schools that use outdoor classrooms, and other forms of nature-based experiential education, support significant student gains in social studies, science, language, arts and mathematics. Students in outdoor science programs improved their science testing scores by 27 per cent (American Institutes for Research, 2005).
7. Improves self confidence
Real confidence is not about winning in a video game. Accidentally or not, you can help with your children’s confidence by letting them connect with nature—where your children can be face-to-face with the real world.
Nature can act as a great healing tool for children who suffer from low self-esteem. Children who are exposed to the natural world experience a greater degree of self-control, peace and discipline. Armed with such gifts, a person’s confidence level is sure to elevate to the next level.
8. Improves nutrition, reduces obesity
Children who grow their own food are more likely to eat fruits and vegetables (Bell & Dyment, 2008), and to show higher levels of knowledge about nutrition (Waliczek & Zajicek, 2006). They are also more likely to continue healthy eating habits throughout their lives (Morris & Zidenberg-Cherr, 2002).
9. Improves health and reduces illness
Children who play more in the natural world fall sick less often than those children who restrict themselves to indoor spaces. Regular exposure to the outside world boosts one’s immune system. As a result, a child is able to combat illness better. It also specifically improves eyesight (American Academy of Ophthalmology, 2011).
10. Reduces stress
Green plants and vistas reduce stress among highly stressed children. Locations with a greater number of plants, greener views and access to natural play areas show more significant results (Wells & Evans, 2003).