Gone are the days when children playing outdoors was a common sight. With the advent of technology and smart devices, it seems like less and less number of kids are interested in nature play.
And children have become more resistant to being bored. Most kids I see these days can’t bear a single second of boredom and want to engage in a stimulating activity all the time.
As a parent, this is really concerning because I can’t help but think about the future of the current generation if they are so intolerant of boredom. And the side effects of staying indoors most of the time on their health is another topic.
And this is why nature play is important. Nature has a lot to teach us.
The ability to live slowly is one.
I think it’s an important skill to teach kids in this fast-paced, impatient world.
According to a recent report by Common Sense Media, American children aged 8-12 spend an average of 4.5 hours per day in front of screens, while teenagers aged 13-18 spend an average of 7.5 hours per day.
This includes time spent on smartphones, tablets, computers, televisions, and video games.
The report also found that screen time increases with age, with 72% of teens reporting that they use social media multiple times per day. While technology can be a valuable tool for learning and entertainment, excessive screen time can have negative effects on children’s physical health, mental health, and academic performance.
Children require an alternative to screen time if we reduce it.
Nature-based play is a good option because it has so many benefits.
In this article, you can find the benefits of playing in nature in different areas of their life.
- Physical health benefits
- Cognitive development
- Mental health benefits
- Problem-solving and analytical skills
- Social benefits
And tips for parents to encourage more outdoor play.
Without much ado, let’s dive in!
Benefits of playing in nature for kids
A. Physical health benefits of nature-based play
The American Academy of Pediatrics recognizes the importance of play and encourages outdoor play to promote children’s health and social-emotional development.
Playing outside in nature offers numerous physical health benefits for kids.
Spending time in nature has been shown to improve bone health, minimize issues related to diabetes and heart disease, and reduce anxiety and stress levels in children.
Additionally, playing outside can help build strong muscles and endurance, and improve blood pressure and aerobic fitness.
Here are some of the ways playing in nature can improve physical health:
1. Helps improve their motor skills
Nature play often involves physical activities such as climbing, running, jumping, and balancing, which can help develop a child’s gross motor skills. These activities require the use of large muscle groups and can help children build strength, coordination, and balance.
Nature play also involves fine motor activities such as digging, building, and manipulating objects, which can help develop a child’s fine motor skills. These activities require the use of small muscle groups and can help children develop their hand-eye coordination, dexterity, and manipulation skills.
2. Helps reduce obesity rates
Playing in nature can help reduce obesity rates in children. Outdoor play encourages physical activity, which can help burn calories and reduce the risk of childhood obesity. Additionally, playing in nature can help children develop a love for physical activity, which can lead to a lifetime of healthy habits.
3. Helps to boost the immune system
Playing in nature can also boost the immune system. Exposure to natural environments can help build immunity to certain diseases and illnesses.
Nature play can help children get more vitamin D in several ways. Vitamin D is produced by the body when the skin is exposed to sunlight, and spending time outdoors in the sun is one of the best ways to get vitamin D.
When children engage in nature play, they are often exposed to sunlight, which can help their bodies produce vitamin D. This vitamin is important for children’s health because it helps the body absorb calcium, which is essential for building strong bones and teeth. Vitamin D also plays a role in immune function and can help protect against certain diseases.
4. Helps to improve muscle strength
Nature play can help develop strong muscles in several ways.
When children engage in outdoor play, they often engage in physical activities that require the use of their muscles, such as running, jumping, climbing, and balancing. These activities can help children build strength, endurance, and coordination in their muscles.
For example, climbing trees or rocks can help children develop upper body strength and coordination while running and jumping can help develop leg strength and endurance. Balancing on logs or walking on uneven terrain can help develop core strength and balance.
In addition to these physical activities, nature play can also provide children with opportunities to engage in imaginative and creative play, which can help develop their muscles in different ways. For example, building a fort or digging a hole can require the use of muscles in the arms, shoulders, and back.
5. Helps to reduce the risk of diabetes and heart disease
Outdoor play encourages physical activity, which can help regulate blood sugar levels and reduce the risk of type 2 diabetes. And also, physical activity can help strengthen the heart, which can reduce the risk of heart disease.
6. Helps to lower blood pressure and inflammation
Exposure to natural environments has been shown to have a calming effect on the body, which can help lower blood pressure. And, exposure to natural environments can help reduce inflammation in the body, which can reduce the risk of chronic diseases.
Examples of interactive activities that can encourage physical health when they play outdoors
There are many interactive activities that can encourage physical health when children play outdoors. Here are some examples:
- Tag: Playing tag is a fun and simple game that encourages children to run and move their bodies.
- Ball games: Games such as soccer, basketball, etc encourage children to run, jump, and move their bodies.
- Obstacle course: Create an obstacle course using natural materials such as logs, rocks, and sticks. This activity encourages children to climb, jump, and balance.
- Hiking: Going on a hike is a great way to encourage physical activity while exploring nature.
- Nature walks: Encourage children to take a leisurely walk through nature, observing and interacting with their surroundings. This helps to develop patience and learn mindfulness.
- Treasure hunt: Create a treasure hunt that requires children to walk or run to different locations to find clues. This activity encourages children to move their bodies while having fun.
- Water play: Playing with water, such as splashing in a creek or swimming in a pool, is a fun and refreshing way to encourage physical activity.
B. Mental and emotional health benefits of playing in nature for kids
Playing in nature is not only good for physical health but also for mental health. Being outside in green spaces has been shown to have numerous benefits for children. Here are some of the mental health benefits of playing in nature:
7. Helps to reduce stress and depression
Playing in nature can help reduce stress and depression in children. Exposure to green spaces has been shown to lower cortisol levels, which is a hormone associated with stress.
Being in nature can also help reduce symptoms of depression and anxiety in children.
8. Helps to improve attention and focus
Studies have found that children who spend time in nature have better attention and focus than those who do not.
Being in nature also provides a break from the constant stimulation of screens and technology, which can help improve attention and focus.
Nature play can help children with ADHD too. Spending time in nature can help reduce symptoms of ADHD such as inattention, hyperactivity, and impulsivity. Being in nature can help children feel calmer and more relaxed, which can in turn help them focus and pay attention.
Sensory overload is a problem seen in people with ADHD: kids and adults alike. Sensory activities help them regulate their sensory output so that they can burn off the excess energy and learn to be calmer.
Nature play can provide a sensory-rich environment. Being outdoors can provide a variety of sensory experiences, such as feeling the sun on their skin, hearing the sounds of birds and insects, and smelling the scent of flowers and trees. Such experiences help them to feel more grounded and centered too.
9. Helps to increase creativity and critical thinking
Being in nature provides endless opportunities for imaginative play and exploration, which can help foster creativity. Being in nature also helps children develop problem-solving skills and critical thinking.
10. Helps to boost their mood and self-esteem
Being outside in green spaces has been shown to increase feelings of happiness and well-being. A good play session outdoors can also help children develop a sense of accomplishment, which can boost their self-esteem.
11. Helps to boost resilience and coping skills
The physical activity involved in outdoor play helps them to become tougher and teaches them to deal with stress.
Outdoor play often involves taking calculated risks, such as climbing trees or exploring new terrain. These experiences can help children to develop confidence and problem-solving skills, which are important for building resilience which will help them to cope with challenges in other areas of their lives.
Examples of interactive activities that can encourage mental and emotional health when kids play outdoors
- Mindful breathing: Encourage children to take a few deep breaths and focus on their surroundings. This can help them feel calm and grounded.
- Nature journaling: Encourage children to observe and write about their surroundings in a nature journal. This activity can help children develop mindfulness and reflection skills.
- Meditation: Encourage children to sit quietly and focus on their breath or surroundings. This can help them feel calm and centered.
- Nature art therapy: Encourage children to create art using natural materials, such as sticks, leaves, and rocks. This activity can help children express their creativity.
- Gratitude practice: Encourage children to reflect on the things they are grateful for in nature, such as the sun, trees, or flowers. This can help children develop a sense of appreciation and positivity.
- Social connection: Encourage children to play with others and engage in cooperative play. This can help children develop social skills and a sense of belonging.
C. Social benefits of nature play for children
Playing in nature has a lot of social benefits. Here are some ways that playing in nature can help children develop socially.
12. Helps to develop social skills and a sense of community
Playing in nature can help children develop social skills and a sense of community.
When children play in nature, they have the opportunity to interact with other children in a more natural setting. They can learn to share, take turns, and work together to achieve a common goal. They can also learn to communicate and negotiate with each other, which can help them develop stronger social skills and form good relationships with their peers.
They get more chances to play with other kids as opposed to spending time indoors in front of their screens. This helps them to develop new friendships and strengthen the existing ones because they get more opportunities to talk, share their worries, negotiate when playing games, etc.
In addition, playing in nature can help children develop a sense of community. The sense of community is more important for today’s kids as spending more and more time sedentary in their rooms can cause more self-centeredness.
When they go out there and see more people, and when they gain insight into others’ lives, it can inspire them in so many ways to become better people.
13. Helps to reduce aggression and improve impulse control
Studies have shown that spending time in nature can help reduce stress and anxiety, which can lead to a reduction in aggressive behavior.
In addition, playing in nature can help children learn to regulate their emotions and impulses as a result of developing social skills by interacting with people and playing different games. They can learn to take a step back and think before acting, which can help them make better decisions and avoid impulsive behavior.
14. Helps to develop empathy and compassion
Kids who spend more time in nature develop a sense of empathy and compassion for other living beings as they are exposed to a variety of different living things. They can learn to appreciate the interconnectedness of all living things and develop compassion for the natural world.
15. Helps to deepen their love for their environment
Kids who play outside tend to develop a deeper love and appreciation for their environment because they are directly interacting with it.
They are able to see, touch, and hear the natural world around them, which helps them to develop a sense of connection and understanding of the environment.
They may observe the beauty of the trees and flowers, the sounds of birds and insects, and the different textures of the ground. This can lead to greater respect for nature and a desire to protect it.
They may learn about the impact of pollution and littering, and how it can harm the plants and animals around them. This can lead to a desire to keep their environment clean and healthy.
Examples of interactive activities that can encourage social skills when they play outdoors
Playing outdoors can be a great way for children to develop their social skills. Here are some examples of interactive activities that can encourage social skills when children play outdoors:
- Cooperative games: Games that require children to work together, such as building a fort or completing an obstacle course, can encourage cooperation and teamwork.
- Role-playing: Encourage children to engage in imaginative play and take on different roles. This can help children develop empathy and perspective-taking skills.
- Scavenger hunt: Create a scavenger hunt that requires children to work together to find items on the list. This activity encourages communication and collaboration.
- Outdoor sports: Playing outdoor sports such as soccer, basketball, or baseball can encourage children to work together as a team.
- Nature exploration: Encourage children to explore nature together, such as going on a hike or looking for insects. This activity encourages children to work together and share their observations.
- Group art projects: Encourage children to work together on a nature-based art project, such as creating a mural or a sculpture. This activity encourages collaboration and creativity.
D. Cognitive benefits of outdoor play
Cognitive development is the ability to think, reason, and the way we learn to use knowledge.
The following are some ways outdoor play can help to improve their cognitive skills.
16. Helps develop their sensory processing skills
Being outdoors and interacting with natural materials such as sand, water, and plants can help children develop their senses of touch, sight, sound, and smell, which can in turn help them develop their overall motor skills.
When they play outside, they can have a range of sensory experiences, such as the feel of grass under their feet, the sound of birds chirping, and the smell of fresh air. They get the ability to explore all their senses when they are outdoors compared to spending time indoors.
17. Helps to encourage exploration
When children are outside, they are exposed to new surroundings, which can spark their curiosity and encourage them to explore.
Kids are curious creatures and when they see different kinds of animals or plants or even looking at the sky can make them wonder about a lot of new things which helps to improve their knowledge.
18. Helps to foster problem-solving skills
Outdoor play often involves making up games, building forts, and creating imaginary worlds. These activities require children to use their problem-solving skills and think creatively to come up with solutions.
19. Helps to promote language skills
Playing outside often involves playing with other children, which can help children develop their communication skills. They learn how to express themselves, negotiate with others, and work together to create imaginative play scenarios.
This helps to improve their vocabulary, the ability to interact with other kids and ask for the things they need, etc
Examples of interactive activities that can encourage imagination in kids when they play outdoors
1. Scavenger hunt: Create a list of items for children to find in nature, such as a leaf, a rock, or a flower. This activity encourages children to use their imagination and creativity to find the items on the list.
2. Nature art: Encourage children to create art using natural materials, such as sticks, leaves, and rocks. This activity encourages children to use their imagination and creativity to create unique art pieces.
3. Outdoor storytelling: Encourage children to create stories based on their surroundings. For example, they could create a story about a magical forest or a group of animals that can talk. This activity encourages children to use their imagination and storytelling skills.
4. Building forts: Encourage children to build forts using natural materials, such as sticks and branches. This activity encourages children to use their problem-solving skills and imagination to create a unique fort.
5. Imaginative play: Encourage children to engage in imaginative play, such as pretending to be animals or creating a pretend restaurant using natural materials. This activity encourages children to use their imagination and creativity to create unique play scenarios.
Tips for parents to encourage more nature play and reduce time indoors on screens
Encouraging children to play creatively in a natural background and spend less time on screens can be challenging, but here are some tips for parents to make it easier:
- Lead by example: Children learn by example, so if parents spend more time outdoors and less time on screens, children are more likely to follow suit.
- Make it a routine: Set aside time each day or week for outdoor play, such as going for a walk or visiting a local park.
- Start small: Weaning them off screens or even dragging a child who loves indoors to outdoors can be tough. So start slowly, by dedicating one hour a day for the purpose or however it works for you.
- Plan outdoor activities: Plan outdoor activities that are fun and engaging, such as hiking, camping, or visiting a nature center. Make sure you try to include a variety of activities even if you may not seem interested in some because you never know what your child will end up liking.
- Create a nature-friendly backyard: Create a backyard that is inviting for children to play in, such as adding a sandbox, a treehouse, or a garden.
- Limit screen time: Set limits on screen time and encourage children to engage in other activities, such as reading, drawing, or playing board games.
- Encourage unstructured play: Encourage children to engage in unstructured play outdoors, such as exploring nature, hide and seek, or playing with friends.
- Get involved in community activities: Look for community activities that encourage outdoor play, such as nature walks, outdoor concerts, or community gardens.
- Get involved in outdoor chores: Activities always don’t need to be entertaining. There are tons of chores to do outdoors too. Ask for the kids’ contribution to cleaning the yard, picking out the weeds, and watering the plants.
Encouraging children to spend more time playing in nature and less time on screens can be a gradual process. By following the above tips, parents can help their children develop a love for the outdoors and a healthier lifestyle.
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