Research has repeatedly shown that we need regular exposure to the natural world. We’re happier and healthier when we’re connected to the natural world. Studies also show improved cognitive function and stress management and lower obesity levels in children who get time outside.
But according to a recent study published in the Archives of Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine, even though the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that children get to play outside for at least 60 minutes a day, nearly half of 3 to 5 year olds don’t get outside playtime.
According to author and Children’s & Nature Network co-founder, Richard Louv, in a recent interview in the Journal of Play:
“Nature play is critical through all of the phases of childhood. For the youngest children, beginning with infants, nature stimulates the imagination and provides a basis for recognizing patterns. Toddlers and young children learn empathy and bonding with other life-forms through nature play. The middle years provide opportunities to take appropriate risks, expand the play territory, and learn critical skills. Teens build on these earlier experiences. Nature-based play tends to be most memorable when there is what Juan Martinez, director of the natural leaders program at our Children and Nature Network, calls “play, serve, and celebrate.” Teens find great inspiration and satisfaction in working to care for the earth while also caring for themselves and others.”
Protecting our planet and nurturing a connection with the natural world are central tenets of humane education. But we can’t expect children to love the earth if they don’t get to regularly engage with it.
Whether we’re educators, parents, caregivers, or just fellow lovers of the natural world, it’s important to provide even the youngest children with positive experiences outside.
To help get kids outdoors, the National Wildlife Federation has created a guide for parents, “Outdoor Play for Everyday,” with tips for overcoming some of the potential obstacles to getting your kids outside, such as weather, time, and safety. And the Nature Conservancy’s Nature Rocks website offers activities and other ideas for helping your kids connect with nature.
In addition to just getting kids outside, we can start helping them nurture a sense of reverence and responsibility for the natural world. IHE’s website offers several activities that can help.
We can also take advantage of opportunities like these:
- Making outdoor activities routine rather than rare.
- Planting a garden. Your young child will enjoy being by your side, looking at bugs and worms, feeling and smelling the soil and flowers, and eating the fruits of your labor. If you don’t have a backyard or access to a community garden, you can still plant herbs in window boxes.
- Checking out books by authors who describe fun and inspiring outdoor activities you can do with children.
- Bringing reverence for nature inside, as well, by doing projects with natural materials. Pine needles, sea glass and shells, leaves and pieces of bark, dried beans, fragrant herbs and silky milkweed can all become the raw ingredients for your children’s imagination and creativity. (Be careful not to move living things such as moss, bark that is still on live trees, animals, etc.)
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