why kids need to play outside + tent


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:

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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.”


why kids need to play outside + tent


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.”


why kids need to play outside


Another example is Graeme and Luisa Bell, who have taken their 16- and 11-year-old kids over 100,000 miles across Africa and South American in a Land Rover Defender (the States, Europe and Asia are next on the agenda). They said: “We believe that traveling is the best possible learning experience for our children. They get to experience what many people won’t and they get to learn practical skills while meeting amazing people. They can now communicate in four languages and have learned to appreciate their own interests and passions.”


If you’re not ready to travel the globe, there are plenty of fun outdoor activities that kids can enjoy at home too:

  • Camping in the back garden offers all of the adventure and independence of spending a night in the wild. It’s also a great opportunity for kids to practise pitching tents and packing essentials.
  • Scavenger hunts during walks in the woods or weekends in the garden helps children discover nature. Items on the list can include pine cones and conkers, feathers, leaf shapes and insects.
  • Embrace the rain and enjoy the mud on the weekends! Studies have shown that certain bacterium in soil can release serotonin, which makes us happier and more energised.
  • Build a ‘bug hotel’ out of bricks, tiles, bark, wood and dry leaves for insects and other creatures to make a home. Visit the hotel once or twice a week to see which creepy crawlies have taken up residence.
  • Introduce your kids to indoor climbing and bouldering at your local wall. It may start a lifelong passion which takes them to the mountains outside and beyond, from Southern Sandstone in London to El Capitan in Yosemite National Park.

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