The mind of a child is open to discovery, which is why 'play' is imperative in learning for a child's overall development. Since being out in nature is unstructured, it gives children an opportunity to learn in a living and organic play environment, which provides many perks that all parents should know about.
Nature offers various objects, terrain, and weather conditions that come in many different textures, shapes, and temperatures. Therefore, a child at any age can benefit from being in a natural setting that places no limitations on what can be learned and ameliorate mood, behavior, and health. The memories made outside in nature will be more prominent than what they remember playing indoors.
10 Their imagination 'runs wild'
Imagination is so important to foster in children because it helps kids develop creativity, ingenuity, and fosters cognitive and social development. A child's imagination is also the 'stepping stone' of critical thinking, influences dreams and goals, plus elaborates on theories for problem-solving.
The unpredictability of what will be found in nature is endless, providing an optimal solution for a bored child. Children need to let their imaginations 'run wild.' Said best by Albert Einstein, "Imagination is more important than knowledge. For knowledge is limited, whereas imagination embraces the entire world, stimulating progress, giving birth to evolution."
9 They learn how to manage risks
Most children are naturally attracted to risky play. In fact, Ellen Sandseter (a professor at Queen Maud University in Norway) identified six categories of risky play which lists great heights, rapid speeds, dangerous tools, dangerous elements (for example deep water), rough and tumble, and disappearance/getting lost.
However, as much as a parent would rather their child avoid risk altogether, learning how to manage or handle dangerous situations and elements is an evolutionary skill that is important to learn. Veritably, learning to manage risks can be contributed to the emotional regulation theory of play. This sort of play teaches children how to manage emotions like fear or anger, and react appropriately to stimulus. Parents should always supervise their children during risky play but, within reason, allow them the chance to learn to test boundaries without getting hurt.
8 Promotes Active Learning
Children, especially young ones, do not learn as effectively through passive learning (listening to a teacher). They need to be physically and mentally engaged in activities that require them to use trial and error skills, an imperative aspect of active learning.
In nature, children become active participants, while simultaneously thinking of what needs to be done next and the purpose behind it, which creates a stronger proficiency in sequencing and learning strategies. Nature also encourages children to inquire, gather, and analyze objects around them which is critical in being able to solve higher-order cognitive solutions when it comes to the world around them.
7 Nature encourages children to explore
Children are mesmerized with the world around them, figuring out how things work and are made, which is a sign of healthy cognitive development. Encouraging your child to explore nature has great benefits, as long as a parent is supervising their child's environment ensuring what they are doing is safe and age-appropriate.
Nature encourages children to use their senses such as touch, smell, taste, and sight to help them understand their environment and how unique objects (such as rocks, leaves, and trees) differ from one another. Exploration is also fundamental in physical growth such as developing coordination in large muscles through climbing and running and gaining eye-hand flexibility by manipulating foreign materials.
6 Nature helps kids focus
An interesting study conducted at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln called Impact of Urban Nature on Executive Functioning in Early and Middle Childhood theorized that a child becomes more focused in a restorative environment. According to the attention restoration theory, 'fatigued' focus can be restored. In the study, they found nature as an optimal restorative environment that improved childrens' executive functioning which helped to increase attention and improve spatial working memory.
In fact, children in the study (ranging from 3-8 years old) had all been diagnosed with Attention-Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) or Attention-Deficit Disorder (ADD). Throughout the study, after periods of assessing the children for working memory, inhibitory control, and attention when they came inside from playing in nature: findings proved not only was their fatigued-attention decreased but symptoms of ADHD and ADD had lowered even without the use of medication.
5 Natural Stress Reliever
Regardless of age, both children and adults could benefit from nature's natural stress-relieving properties. Being outdoors helps relieve muscle tension, lower blood pressure and heart rate, and decreases the production of the stress hormone cortisol.
A natural environment helps to narrow the mind by creating spatial awareness of your body and surroundings, which helps the body relax. Although we don't commonly associate children to being stressed out; stress, fear, and restlessness can come out as unfavorable behaviors that are deemed as a child 'acting out'. Next time your little ones are acting-out or acting cranky; perhaps a little bit of green-time could help.
4 Improves their health
We all know that being outdoors has many benefits for a child's development and well-being. To maintain healthy body weight, circulation, and absorb vital Vitamin D from the sun: being in nature provides many physical benefits. It also helps with moods, attention, and behaviors... but the benefits don't just stop there.
When a child is constantly indoors, they are susceptible to germs, bacteria, and viruses that stay on surfaces for a long period of time or are airborne in a closed environment. Although the outdoors has susceptibilities of its own, nature offers many types of microorganisms (probiotics) needed for essential nutrients and to help the body fight off infections and pathogens.
3 Teaches children to respect the environment
Children who actively participate and engage with nature will be more likely to become better-informed adults who are conscious of how their lifestyle and practices directly impact the environment. Those who are environmentally-alert, respect nature and are mindful of their own footprint on the earth, want to preserve its health and beauty.
Allowing your child to fully experience and embrace the great outdoors, encourages connection to their environment. They learn to appreciate the process of growing their own food, the force of weather elements, and the tranquillity of running water or the wind blowing in the trees.
2 Improves behavior and sleep
Being outside helps everyone feel happier and relaxed - but why is that? Of course, Vitamin D from the sun has been strongly linked to increasing positive moods. That is why children (or adults) who spend more time indoors are at a higher risk of developing symptoms of depression. However, it's not just the sun that makes you feel happy. Mycobacterium vaccae, a bacteria organism found in soil, activates brain cells to increase the production of the chemical serotonin, the body's natural feel-good hormone.
Nature can also help children who have difficulty falling or staying asleep. Being outside restores the body's biological clock based off of natural light levels. Being in natural lighting as opposed to artificial can improve and regulate melatonin levels which are needed for restorative sleep. Children who feel happier and who have a night of adequate restful sleep, are able to manage behaviors easier.
1 Helps create self-reliance
To be self-reliant, you must have the ability to rely on your own abilities and efforts. For children, they are already dependent on their caregivers, but in many ways are keen on testing out their own independence. That's why right from toddler age, children continuously test out boundaries and seek out responsibility, to enable their own self-worth and purpose.
Nature teaches children that in order to be self-reliant, you may have to fail numerous times before becoming successful in endeavors. Activities such as learning how to ride a bike, climbing trees, and knowing how to swim without using a lifejacket or water wings are ways to encourage a child to become self-reliant.