From watching television to playing video games, kids seem to be spending more and more time indoors than outdoors. The sudden increase in the number of children spending more time indoors has led to numerous studies being published, highlighting the negative impact on their development and health. Research has also established that there are many benefits of nature play that kids enjoy every time they step out to play.
So, what are the benefits of nature play? Generally, children reap a lot of benefits when they engage in nature play. Some of them include reduced risk of nearsightedness, builds a healthy body, emotional intelligence, boost self-esteem, and improves their cognitive development. Nature play also encourages imagination, stimulates social interaction, reduces stress, and limits screen time.
Read on to find out some of the top benefits of nature play and why you should start encouraging it. So, let us get started right away.
What Is Nature Play?
The concept of nature play isn’t new. In fact, before the advancement in technology, children used to engage in nature play without even knowing it. Nature play involves incorporating different environmental aspects and the surrounding landscape into an outdoor play area.
It combines nature and safety, enhancing the play experience and providing kids with a lot of options. Today, natural playgrounds have become quite common, popping up in urban neighborhoods, city parks, and schools to encourage kids to participate in outdoor play.
Nature play is not only aesthetically pleasing but also provides a highly safe and fun environment for kids to enjoy nature and spend more time outdoors. Natural playgrounds come in different shapes and sizes.
Most of them use boulders, trees, streams, logs, sand, and other natural elements to create highly interactive play areas.
What Are the Benefits of Nature Play?
Nature play offers a wide range of mental, physical, social, and emotional health benefits. It is crucial to the development of our physical body and brain. It also affects our cognitive, emotional, and social wellbeing, which is why it is a core component of child development.
Here are some of the top benefits of nature play.
1. Reduces a Child’s Risk of Becoming Nearsighted
Heredity usually plays a critical role in whether or not a child develops nearsightedness or myopia. However, it is also clear that spending more time outdoors can help in lowering the risk.
In one randomized study, it was discovered that six-year-old kids assigned to get an extra one hour of outdoor play every day were less likely to develop myopia over the next five years.
But how does playing outdoors help with vision? Even though researchers aren’t sure, it is believed that nature play provides your eyes with a much-needed break from “close work” such as reading or watching television.
Lots of close work increases your child’s chances of developing nearsightedness. Another possibility is that eyes benefit from exposure to bright daylight hence improving your vision.
Either way, it looks like nature play is a relatively good prescription for reducing the risk of nearsightedness.
2. Builds a Healthy Body
Play is critical to the overall development of a robust and healthy body in children. Typically, when children play, they develop essential reflexes and learn fine and gross motor skills, balancing skills, and flexibility that will serve them good throughout their lives.
Outdoor play also benefits children’s physical health by exposing them to sunlight, fresh air, and natural environments, which contributes to a robust immune system and bone formation.
Sunlight helps in strengthening their bones. It facilitates the development of muscle strength and improves heart and lung function. Nature play also helps to prevent diabetes, obesity, and high cholesterol.
The number of children suffering from chronic health conditions such as obesity, asthma, and diabetes is rising. Unfortunately, many parents don’t know that something as simple as nature play can help their kids live a happy and healthy life.
3. Intellectual Benefits
The natural world is an open-ended learning laboratory for kids. Kids are innate scientists and love to experience different scents, textures, sounds, and sights. Natural environment provides countless opportunities for creativity, discovery, STEM education and problem-solving.
Interacting with nature allows kids to learn a lot of things through trial and error. They can try out different ideas and their imaginations without fear of being confronted by their parents or caretakers. They can think, imagine, question, and make hypotheses hence developing inquisitive minds.
Whether they are judging the distance between two rocks before jumping or trying to find out where insects hide during winter, kids constantly think when they are outdoors.
The different things they experience offer them real and authentic learning that will help them throughout their lives. As they take risks, try and fail and try again, they build their confidence and become resilient.
Some of the activities that kids engage in that help with their intellectual development include listening to the birds sing, jumping in puddles, constructing different toys, gazing at the clouds, building different structures, smelling & cutting grass, constructing different structures with twigs and mud, etc.
4. Limits Screen Time
Many kids spend an average of seven hours a day in front of a screen. Whether it is watching television, playing games on a smartphone, or computer, too much screen time inhibits your child’s development in different ways.
The universal rule is that no amount of screen time can work for your kids. Sometimes, parents are at fault for allowing their little ones to spend a lot of time in front of different screens. Parents are no longer encouraging their kids to go out, spend time with their peers and learn different things.
In the end, both parents and their kids end up feeling guilty. However, with a little bit of internal drive and commitment, all this can change pretty fast. For a moment, discourage your little ones from spending too much time on screens and push them to go out and play in the woods or park.
Let them experience a new environment and feel the fresh breeze. Spending time outdoors will not only keep them away from the television, iPad, and video games but will also boost their mental health. The good thing is that you don’t have to take your kids to the park every day.
You can easily transform your backyard into a natural playground and start encouraging your children to spend more time playing there. Once in a while, you can plan something bigger and surprise them with a trip to somewhere new.
5. Teaches Emotional Intelligence and Boosts Self-Esteem
Imagine you are only three years old and trying to build a block tower. Suddenly, another kid runs up to your tower and knocks it down. How will you react? What do you do? Do you run to your parents crying? Do you hit the other child, or do you inform him/her that whatever he/she has done is wrong?
Such situations frequently happen in unstructured nature play environments and are crucial in helping kids learn how to control their feelings and express their emotions. The less verbal children often express their views, feelings, experiences and frustrations through play.
The emotional intelligence developed during playtime can help your child navigate through the tricky social situations and relationships throughout their life.
In addition to developing emotional intelligence, nature play also helps kids develop confidence and self-esteem. That endows your kid with resilience and self-confidence he/she needs to take his/her place in the world and face life challenges head-on.
6. Helps in Preserving Our Nature
Statistics show that there are no signs of the world population slowing down. According to the World Resources Institute, approximately 100 species of animals and trees die every day because of deforestation.
Increased demand for living space has forced human beings to attack nature, causing environmental pollution and other ecosystem-related issues. While we can’t change the past, we can take appropriate actions to make the future much better.
By bringing about awareness about our natural environment, we could save future generations from catastrophic events.
Since our children will be major game-changers in the war against environmental pollution, taking them out and allowing them to interact with the natural environment through nature play is the first step towards teaching them what is right.
As they connect closely with nature, they will understand why it really matters in life and will gravitate towards protecting it.
Nature will always exist around us. However, no human being is going to live forever. The moment you were born, your death meter started ticking. There is also no guarantee that we shall have a new lease of life.
To top it all, children are not going to remain kids forever. So, why not let them make the most of their childhood and enjoy nature play? Keep in mind that when you take them out for a play, they feel happy, and so do you. After all, mother nature is waiting for both of you with open arms.
Seize the moment and help your young ones enjoy their childhood to the fullest.