Federica Licini, co-founder and CEO of TreasureHouse, an online community that helps parents swap preloved kids clothes, shares why it’s important for kids to spend time in nature
From digging in the dirt to gazing at clouds, a childhood spent communing with nature is far from frittered – yet this kind of activity seems the stuff of Enid Blyton fairytales these days.
Studies have long shown that our kids are increasingly disconnected from the great outdoors. In 2005, the US author Richard Louv coined the term ‘nature deficit disorder’ to describe the diminished use of the senses, difficulties with paying attention and higher rates of illness that result from our rupture from the world outside.
Then, in 2016, a shocking report by Unilever found that three-quarters of UK children spend less time outside than prison inmates.
The pressure on schools to hit academic targets, traffic-clogged roads and parents’ fears of ‘stranger danger’ all combine to spell more time cooped up for our little ones. But the truth is that a life lived outdoors is good for kids in so many ways.
Here are just a few of the ways in which nature can nurture:
Nature is… calming
When playing outdoors, a child might dig a hole, watch insects crawl, or stir up a soup puddle – all activities that necessitate slowing down and focussing in a more mindful way on the world around them. Some call it ‘soft fascination’ – a manner of observing and experiencing the world that doesn’t cause the fatigue of a hectic urban environment.
Nature is… good for creativity
Studies show that children in nature-based playgrounds engage in more creative play than those in asphalt play parks. This may be because objects in nature don’t have specific or set uses, allowing kids to experiment and use their imagination. Activities such as den building, creating habitats for insects, or building with mud exercise both creativity and STEM skills.
Nature is… sociable
Playing outdoors with other children, freed from the rules of the classroom or watchful eye of parents, allows kids to interact with new and different playmates in various ways. A little independent freedom to explore outdoors helps children to hone their problem-solving skills and learn to collaborate as a team.
Nature is… great for health
It pretty much goes without saying that any physical activity is good for kids – whether that’s kicking a ball around, running or cycling through the park or splashing in streams. Add to that the fact that the best source of Vitamin D, essential for healthy bones, is from sunlight on skin and the benefits of outdoor play are manifold.
Nature is… independence-boosting
A little risk-taking is vital for kids to grow up able to safely navigate the world around them – and what better place to do this than the great outdoors? Mastering the art of tree climbing, for instance, is all about learning to measure risk and take responsibility… not to mention the confidence boost that comes from successfully scaling those heights.
Nature is… sleep-inducing
A University of Essex study found that people who went for a 15-20 minute walk in nature at lunchtime could relax more easily at night, improving the quality of their sleep. Nature stimulates the ‘rest and restore’ areas of our brain, allowing us to relax. What better reason to get the kids running around in the fresh air?
Nature is… good for language
Studies show that children use five times as many words when they play outdoors compared to indoors. This is because children aren’t inhibited by volume or the pressure of talking in front of their peers, and can ‘let off steam’ in a fun, non-intimidating environment. Kids playing outside also frequently engage in role play (think mud kitchens), which expands the vocabulary they experiment with and use.
Nature is… good for the environment
As climate change continues to have a devastating impact on our planet, children who appreciate the beauty and importance of the natural world around us will grow up determined to preserve it. If a child has never seen a bluebell wood, a kingfisher, or a bat in its natural habitat, how will they understand what there is to be lost?