Research confirms what many of us know intuitively: that children who spend time in nature early on in life are much more motivated to get outside when they are older — and thus recoup the many physical, mental and emotional health benefits as adults. So clearly, it's really important to start as early as possible!
Remember this: if you weren't lucky enough to spend time in nature when you were little, it's never too late to start getting outside and enjoying the many benefits now. And if you have children, even better! You can enjoy the healing properties of nature together as a family!
As Richard Louv notes in his book Last Child in the Woods, our technology-addicted culture is making it harder for children to spend time outside, so they are missing out on its many benefits.
But we can make the choice as parents to cultivate time outside as a priority for our kids. With that, here are five compelling reasons that children need to get outside into nature at an early age!
1. It improves children's resilience to stress.
Nature reduces the impact of life's stresses on children, and also helps them deal with hard times when those feelings of stress seem unavoidable. Keep in mind that exposure to nature doesn't have to mean a long hike in the mountains; even a view of nature can help reduce anxiety for those who are highly stressed. The greater the amount of nature exposure, the greater the benefits for stress-relief. Period!
2. It reduces attention disorders, depression and anxiety.
Research has found that spending time in nature can help children with attention deficit disorder. And living close to green space has also been shown to lower anxiety and depression in younger children. In other words, nature undoubtedly helps us tune into the present moment, and practice mindfulness organically — without even having to think of it in those terms!
3. It supports children's creativity and cognitive functioning.
Research shows that children are more creative when exposed to nature. Furthermore, this recent research has also highlighted that daily exposure to nature increases children's ability to focus and concentrate and therefore enhances their cognitive abilities (including problem solving). Lower stress, decreased anxiety, and improved mental function... the reasons keep going on and on!
4. It increases their physical activity and thereby helps to reduce obesity.
According to a recent review, children's time spent playing outdoors is associated with increased physical activity. This makes sense, intuitively, right? Getting outside in nature means children are not hunched over the computer, or in front of the TV. Instead, they will be running, jumping, digging, climbing and so on.
And the best part is that they won't even realize they are being physically active, meaning that exercise will likely become a priority for them, simply through habit! Nature encourages exploration, play and movement. These positive qualities should be the words we use to describe exercise.
5. It helps to develop their respect and responsibility for the earth/planet.
Research has found that if children have regular contact with nature during early childhood, they will more likely grow up with a love and respect for nature and the environment. Childhood playing in "wild" nature (e.g. camping, hiking or walking in the woods) has a positive effect on both adult environmental attitudes and also their behaviors.
So, if you are the parent (or teacher) of a small child, here are just a few ideas to try out which will benefit everyone involved:
- Encourage your child to grow plants or seasonal vegetables. You could also celebrate the seasons, and rhythms of nature with your child.
- Go for regular family picnics, visits to the park or a beach or for walks in woodlands.
- Learn more about nature with your child to encourage their interest in and desire to be outside. You could go on nature trails with your child.
- Go blackberry picking and foraging for wild food as a family, though do be careful though not to eat anything poisonous. (Take a book or do a course.)
- Help your child to get creative with natural found objects — going outdoors to find the "natural objects" is a big part of the fun! You could also suggest they take nature photographs or make sketches and start a scrapbook.
- Go on family camping trips somewhere exciting and "wild"!
Of course, it's never too late to benefit from nature. So let's all get outside more and have some fun!