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The Benefits of Outdoor Play for Kids


“Only a genuine love for the natural world will give us the desire to care for and protect it”

Claire Thompson

If children are given the opportunity to love nature, they’ll take care of it and this is so important, now more than ever.  Humans have an innate tendency to seek connections with nature and other forms of life.  Biologist Edward O. Wilson popularised this theory, biophilia, in the 1980s.  

If this is the case, allowing children to just ‘be’ in nature is a great start. Without any interference or structure and by offering space and time to explore, at their own pace, children can be supported in creating their connection with the natural world.

Nature Deficit Disorder is a term coined by Richard Louv in response to the shift in our relationship to the natural world.  Louv believes that “ Reconnection to the natural world is fundamental to human health, well-being, spirit, and survival.” 

Sadly, children are not getting the supportive guidance from nature that so many of the previous generations received. This decline is the result of fewer outdoor spaces to play in, an increase in structured activities and the feeling that the outdoors is not a safe place for children.

Research shows us that spending time outdoors has the following benefits for children.  

  • promotes brain growth and better gut health
  • helps to develop their social skills
  • improves their ability to communicate
  • supports their sensory awareness
  • builds resilience
  • promotes creativity and imagination
  • reduces stress and fatigue 
  • improves physical and mental health
  • helps them to become more confident
  • offers them the opportunity to learn about their own abilities and become more independent.

“The best classroom and the richest classroom is roofed only by the sky.”    

Margaret McMillan

A new movement becoming popular in Ireland is Forest School. Forest School is an educational approach to learning and development in the outdoors. With children attending so many structured activities, forest school offers children the space and time to be in nature and create their own play. Their imaginations are ignited and they are able to follow through with their own play without adults ‘getting in the way’.

Bridges are built over the dragon infested swamp, dens are assembled, trees are climbed to capture another view of the forest. Richard Louv calls this ‘.. a place distant from the adult world, a separate peace.”

Another initiative gaining popularity is Outdoor Classroom Day. It aims to inspire and celebrate outdoor play and learning, at home and at school. The outdoors is the perfect learning environment. Anything that is taught within a classroom setting can also be transferred to the outdoors. “Learning outdoors provides more opportunities for risk-taking, problem-solving, moving the whole body, using the imagination, overcoming fears, engaging in teamwork and tolerating and integrating new sensory experiences.” Angela Hanscom

Here are some ideas to get kids outdoors having fun in nature.

             

  

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Next time you head outdoors with your children, step back and see where their curiosity takes them. Give them the space to engage, to question and to wonder. There are so many incredible benefits to getting outside, so I invite you to connect with nature this winter and see what treasures await you.

 

Kerry Walker is a passionate Forest School Leader, Forest Bathing Guide, Forest Therapy Practitioner and an Art Therapist.  For more information, please check out www.thenaturehub.ie and follow Kerry on Instagram and Facebook

 

 

 

 


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