There are huge benefits from allowing our children freedom to spend time in nature and explore the natural world.
Playing outside improves children’s physical fitness, exposing them to Vitamin D, plenty of fresh air, and building physical strength, laying healthy foundations for later life. Evidence also demonstrates that good physical health promotes better mental health.
Connecting with nature also brings educational benefits, with research showing outdoor learning and exposure to nature improves children’s ability cognitively in academic studies, as well as in team work, concentration and self-discipline.
Natural environments encourage imaginative and varied play, beyond the confines of artificially constructed playgrounds.
A recent report, Natural Childhood, commissioned by the National Trust, and written by Stephen Moss, one of Britain’s leading nature writers, examined the modern phenomenon known as ‘Nature Deficit Disorder’ and the importance of changing this to enable our children to reconnect with the natural world.
Statistics show us that children are living increasingly sedentary lives, partly due to the increase in screen time and the convenience of cars in our often hectic daily routines. Other contributory factors include ‘stranger danger’, our risk averse culture with regard to children’s safety, and an enormous increase in traffic on the roads, posing a threat/danger. But research demonstrates the wide-ranging negative impact on children of a lack of engagement with nature, including mental and health concerns, a decreased ability to assess risks and a decline in emotional resilience.
Other research has investigated how ‘nature connectedness’ and ‘noticing nature’ have a significant impact on improving wellbeing, and is associated with lower levels of depression and anxiety. Children were more likely to report feeling happy when carrying out activities such as relaxing in nature, celebrating natural events, and experiencing behaviours including smelling wildflowers, listening to birdsong watching the sun rise and the clouds in the sky.
‘The best classroom and richest cupboard is roofed only by the sky’ – Margaret McMillan