From catching tadpoles and garden spiders as a kid, to hiking in the UK and crab fishing with pegs and string in Sweden as an adult, spending time outdoors has always been a fundamental part of my life. Not only is playing outside an escape from technology and an opportunity to discover the extraordinary – it’s scientifically proven to be educational and therapeutic for children and grown-ups alike. Here is why it’s so important for little ones to find that connection with nature:
In Finland, since the 1960s, school children spend 15 minutes playing freely and socialising outside for every 45 minutes they spend in the classroom, to ensure that they’re more attentive when they return. Importantly, ‘free-play’ isn’t only about being away from the desk, but about liberation from structured learning as well. Finnish children won’t start preschool until they’re six, and even then time spent at the desk is kept to a minimum. This is because playing outside is fundamental for developing crucial learning skills.
A 2012 study titled ‘The Power of Play’ by the Minnesota Children’s Museum, which embeds research on play and childhood development into its interactive exhibits, concluded that: “In the short and long term, play benefits cognitive, social, emotional, and physical development. […] When play is fun and child-directed, children are motivated to engage in opportunities to learn.”
American author and journalist Richard Louv, who wrote the bestseller expose Last Child in the Woods, believes that kids’ dependency on technology and indoor play has developed ‘nature-deficit disorder’. Louv states that this modern disconnection from the great outdoors can cause everything from anxiety and childhood obesity to depression and vitamin D deficiency. It’s undeniable that even simply walking and running on your local common or footpath is enough to alleviate stress and escape the humdrum of work or school.
Outside Online provides plenty of inspirational examples of parents who feel like their children benefit from the natural world. Photographer Jesse Burke, who extensively shot his daughter, Clover, enjoying the outdoors in Wild & Precious, believes that these experiences can intricately shape us as adults: “My goal is to create a compassionate, understanding, loving person who’s connected to the earth, to raise the next generation of environmental stewards. That’s exactly who she’s become. We’ve screwed up this planet. I want my daughters to understand beauty so they can protect it.”