Children today are generally surrounded by numerous TV channels, interactive websites and tablets galore, they don't even remember a time before these technologies existed. Numerous studies have shown the importance of outdoor play (especially in nature) effecting early years education in positive way, in fact, physical free play in nature is actually the best thing you can do for your childs early development. Yet most of our kids spend very little time in nature...
Now we are not anti-technology at all, there's no doubt that all these technological advances can be helpful for education if used in moderation and selectively. Plus lets be real, nothing keeps a kid entertained like an iPad when you need 10 mins *cough halfanhour* kid free!
That being said, I think it's refreshing and reassuring to know that the good, old fashioned out-doors play is so beneficial to academic achievement, physical development, social and emotional development and self awareness. I know a lot of parents feel the need to create activities constantly, go to the zoo/swimming/clubs and fill the days with planned activities but research shows that what kids need most these days is actually LESS of these things and more free play.
We should encourage our kids to play without the need for toys/park equipment/adult direction... Let them get messy, run around, explore and create in the out-doors. Allowing them to invent their own experiences, use their imaginations and reap the benefits from out-door play. We all remember being the kid with the cardboard box that one minute was a house, then a rocket then suddenly a race-car! Aside from creative development through outdoor play there is the opportunity for first hand experience at learning about our world around us and nature. In reference to the five senses, through touching new surfaces and textures, smelling new smells (varying through the seasons), hearing birds and wildlife, seeing the different change of seasons before their very eyes the only sense not really accounted for is taste! But even so there's nothing stopping you fruit and veggie picking outdoors!
Opinions from experts aside all you have to do is watch your children playing outside to see how beneficial it is for them, and you! But for those of you who like the support of scientific studies here are some of the most recent facts on 'nature therapy'
Realistically not everyone has a garden with lots of space for running around in, trees to climb and space to build forts... But there are plenty of forest parks, beaches and nature walks around the country you can visit to ensure your kids are getting lots of fresh air and adventuring time!
If your kids aren't used to this type of play/free time you might be thinking 'they won't like that' or 'I can't see that being fun' but it is really worth trying - even if it takes a while to get used to and enjoy. I realised last month that my son (3.5years old) wasn't spending as much time in nature as I would like, something I did which might work for you too, was set up a 'forest day' with my friends. We chose a day that most of us were free and said every week that day - no matter what the weather - we'd meet at the forest at 10am, each week different people come since not everyone will make it each week, but it's never cancelled. We plan one game/activity (something very simple to do if the kids need some direction or seem bored), but mostly we just follow the kids leads, encouraging any exploring or games they initiate.
I know its the end of summer but that's all the MORE reason to make sure your kids spend enough time in nature, since it'll not happen so much naturally! There's nothing stopping you all wrapping up warm, putting on wellie boots (umbrellas if needed) and experiencing what the outdoors have to offer. The more outdoor activity our kids undertake in their early life will influence how active and how much time they spend outdoors as teenagers and adults!
Plus if you know they've spent a few hours in the forest earlier there's much less parental guilt if the amount of screen time that afternoon is less than ideal ;)
If you enjoyed this blog post please consider sharing it - let's encourage all families to spend more time outside this Autumn. And if you have any tips/ideas on this topic please share them in the comments section below we love to hear from you!
Our first blog post in this series was on Creating positive associations with school and with failure the third post is on how we can help our children see hardship as a challenge and empower them to overcome it.