The importance of outdoor play has been gaining a lot of adherents lately. Richard Louv, a journalist, and co-author of Children & Nature Network was the first to coin the term ¨nature-deficit disorder.¨ He explains that this deficit ¨contributes to a diminished use of the senses, attention difficulties, conditions of obesity, and higher rates of emotional and physical illnesses.¨
Angela Hanscom, a pediatric occupational therapist and founder of TimberNook, is a fierce advocate for nature-based play. As she states, ¨our children need to challenge their senses, motor skills, and abilities in order to organize the brain and develop new skills in life. It is our job to provide the time, space, and opportunity to do so.¨
A recent study presented at the Pediatrics National Conference & Exhibition in Chicago showed that students benefit from green spaces at schools. The study reports that their stress levels decreased and their physical activity increased. Which proves that exposure to green environments is not only beneficial but crucial to a healthy child development.
Outdoor play is beneficial to a child’s holistic development. However, our current technological advances, our children’s over-scheduled afternoons, and limited recess time hinder the ability to frequently expose our children to nature. Here, we are making a case for the importance of outdoor play and the skills that these interactions with nature help develop.
Outdoor play helps children refine their social skills
When children play outside and at the park, they often have to interact with other kids. They need to wait for their turn on the swings, self-advocate when another child cuts in line, and are presented with opportunities to engage in playful activities with their peers.
Powerful personalities need to find a way to co-exist and amicably give in to others’ requests. They have to settle agreements and choose their roles in their imaginative free play they have thoughtfully designed. It’s a different scenario from indoor play because it’s unscripted and free.
When we allow our children to figure it out, we are helping them develop assertiveness, communication skills, and a healthy leadership style: All of the social skills that will help children thrive in all aspects of their lives.
Outdoor play boosts the 4 C’s
21st-century education focuses on developing 4 C’s: critical thinking, cooperation, collaboration, and creativity. Educators from around the globe carefully carve these skills into their lesson plan. Experts agree that these are the skills students need to succeed in life.
When children are given a variety of tools – sticks, stones, leaves, branches, puddles – their imagination activates. What world can we create? What are the sticks representing in our game? How do we use leaves and branches for pretend play? These are all the inner monologues that children create when playing outdoors.
The variety of materials, textures, and tools that one may find outside are proportional to the infinite amount of creative games that children can invent. These opportunities allow for children to put into practice all 4 C’s, which enriches their cognitive and emotional development.
Outdoor play helps children develop a ¨natural intelligence¨
Just like we use the term emotional intelligence to define people who adequately understand, interpret, and respond to other people’s displays of emotions – there is also natural intelligence or nature awareness.
With so many catastrophic events happening lately, mostly due to climate change and global warming, it’s crucial to help our children develop a sense of empathy towards nature. When they are exposed to outdoor play, they are given the opportunity to gain a newfound respect for the Earth and are more open to making eco-friendly choices.
The positive effects of nature-based play can be seen in many areas of a child’s life. These are just a few of the long list of benefits in outdoor play. Just like Louv suggest, let’s give our kids more Vitamin N!