When you arrive home today, please do an experiment. Stand outside in front of your home and listen. What do you hear? Do you hear children playing? Unfortunately, the answer is probably no. The fact is that children are not playing outside as often as they used to. One reason is that many adults fear children may get too dirty, or that it is too warm or too cold. Also children spend a considerable amount of time inside watching television, working on computers, or playing electronic games. Many children these day are also overscheduled. They can’t play outside because they have other commitments. It seems that instead of allowing children to experience the gift of nature, we are keeping them from it.
By not allowing children to experience nature, we may actually be harming them. Richard Louv, author of Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children From Nature-Deficit Disorder, has studied the effects on children who have an absence of nature in their lives. This deficit can lead to children having under-developed senses. It can also lead to children displaying attention problems and having higher rates of physical and emotional problems.
Louv says that it is highly beneficial for children to spend time in nature. It aids in the development of their physical, social and emotional skills. Children can exercise physically while playing outside. They develop many of their large and small muscle skills by running, jumping, climbing, and pedaling. Children develop socially by communicating and negotiating with peers. Emotionally, they develop a sense of self-competency and independence through their explorations.
Encourage your children’s outside play:
- Have a large area that allows for sand, paint, water, clay, etc. Children can be free and creative. They will not have to worry about how much of the materials may spill.
- Have a variety of balls. Encourage kicking, throwing, catching, rolling as well as hiding. One great idea is to bury balls in mounds of leaves, snow, sand, etc.
- Have lots of loose materials for building. Sanded wood pieces, large PVC pipes, cardboard boxes, fabrics, and Plexiglas work well. Children can combine these items and leave up their constructions without having to worry about cleaning them up to make room for something else.
- If you do not have a climbing tree or structure, you could always take a walk to the park and encourage children to climb there.
- Go on nature walks and hikes. Bring a notebook to capture in words or pictures what you have discovered.
- Hide items in your outside area to encourage seek and find games.
Think back to your own childhood. What were your favorite ways to play outside? Give your children the gift of nature by sharing your favorites with them. Offer them opportunities to experience the incredible wonders the natural world has to offer.