By Celia Hogan
Children thrive when they experience nature and the connection it brings to their lives. There are so many incredible benefits nature brings to children when they can explore the outdoors and play in their own way, the way their body is designed to.
I was that child who loved being outdoors. I loved the classes where we were active and outdoors and I thrived in those environments. All our holidays were outdoors on farms, beaches, rivers, lakes, forests, and camping. These holidays lead me to study outdoor education and teaching.
When I was looking for a preschool for my first child, I was shocked at the size of the outdoor spaces and what little space was available. This was not what I was imagining for my child.
I remembered seeing bush kindergartens overseas and this led me to set up my own bush kindergarten here in New Zealand.
During these sessions, we would attract nature-loving families, families who wanted to build resilience in their children and sadly families who had been told their children were naughty.
The interesting thing is that those children who were described as having challenging behaviours would either have no obvious behaviour challenges or they would be much less common in our natural environment.
What I have seen is that all children thrive when they get to lead their own play in nature. Challenging behaviours are not so challenging and parents seem much more relaxed too.
WHAT IS NATURE PLAY?
Nature play is the ultimate in free play. Unmediated by toys or adult-created environments, kids find everything they need to learn and play. A stick can be a magic wand, a tool for digging, a home for bugs, or just a stick. A tree can be a world to explore, a climbing frame, a house.
Nature is the perfect place for imagination, exploration, and physical play. Kids will learn confidence in themselves, resourcefulness, and love for nature and the world around them.
WHY IS IT SO IMPORTANT?
Research shows us there are many benefits to connecting our children with nature. It can support multiple developmental domains including intellectual, emotional, social, spiritual and physical.
It develops problem-solving abilities, self-belief, enhances cognitive skills and improves academic performance.
It also increases physical activity, can improve nutrition, eyesight, social relations, self-discipline and reduce stress. Daily contact with nature can show many positive impacts.
HOW DO WE NURTURE OUR CHILDREN WITH NATURE?
By spending regular time outdoors and in nature with your children, letting them lead their own play, you are helping them to nurture their physical, social and emotional development.
- Enable them to engage with their senses while outdoors: sound, sight, touch, smell and taste. Sensory play is one of the main ways in which children learn. So let them get wet and muddy. I have never met a child who got so wet that they couldn’t get dry again.
- All ages from babies to teens should be regularly spending time outdoors to help them manage their emotions. Spending just 20 minutes outside helps us to regulate emotions. This is a great skill to have when we are feeling upset or stressed. We can go outside to help calm ourselves down.
- Regular play in nature grows stronger relationships between parents and children and builds your child’s resilience too.
- Share any knowledge you have about the natural world. If you know a tree name, point it out. If you know a story of a place you are visiting, share the story. You can also find out together!