Mary Ruth Cross, MS, MFT, NCC, RPT-S
CEO/Owner Treehouse Family Counseling Services
It’s Time to Go Out and Play In Nature
School is almost out for the summer and the kids cannot wait to go play. For many family’s activities have been planned for months, vacations scheduled, there are new opportunities to learn and grow through sports or team activities and time to relax and have fun away from the stress of homework and school.
It can also be a time of challenge to turn off the electronics and “go out and play”. Some of my fondest memories are the camping trips my family went on each summer. I was able to see bears in Calaveras Big Trees, buffalo in Yellowstone, cascading waterfalls in Yosemite where we would spend the day hiking and spend the nights singing camp songs and roasting marshmallows.
My question for you is “What kind of memories and experiences are you making with your family this summer?” Have you tried playing in nature? Recent research notes that there are many benefits to being in nature. The Nature Action Collaborative for Children notes that there is tremendous benefit to the child developmentally over their lifespan. (2011) Nature play is more than just going outside to play. Nature play puts children in direct contact with nature. Kids are healthier when they engage in nature play. Here are a few other benefits to nature play.
Nature play encourages creativity and use of imagination. Children can engage with nature through their imagination. I remember as a teenager when I was in a Counselor-in-Training program for outdoor education. Our leader had us walk single file with our closed. She brought us into the center of a beautiful Buckeye grove. It was a beautiful warm morning in the Santa Cruz Mtns. We went from the isolation of having our eyes closed to being connected in an emotional way to the simple wonderfulness of this grove of trees. For children this grove of trees with intertwined canopy could have been the inside of a magical cave with fairies and fireflies, or perhaps a mysterious cave where the ogre lives. The options are limited only by the imagination.
Nature encourages physical activity. In a 2001 study done in Sweden (Fjortoft, 2001) it was found that children who spend time outdoors tended to have better distance vision and were naturally more active.
Nature play encourages improved decision making. Researchers Burdette and Whitaker (2005) note that children who engage in various types of nature play were found to be better at making decisions through problem solving and creative thinking.
Nature play encourages improved focus and attention. According to Taylor, Kuo, & Sullivan (2001) even children who have difficulty focusing on a single task performed better when able to engage in nature play consistently. The child could let their focus and attention wander which gave the attentional parts of the brain time to rest and recover. Parents reported that their children were calmer after spending time playing in nature.
Nature play encourages positive emotional functioning. Children as well as adults tend to relax more easily after taking a hike or spending time in their favorite outdoor place. In research by Wells and Evans (2005) it was found that children who live nearer nature showed signs of less anxiety and depression and higher levels of self-worth. When children play in nature it strengthens their emotional bonds to friends and family. Nature naturally facilitates dynamic interactions between peers thereby improving social interactions overall. (Drew, 2007)
Play is vital to the development of healthy children. Playing in nature supports development in many areas giving the child every opportunity to be their very best self. Playing in nature with family and friends just makes it all the better. Create wonderful memories for children and family by playing in nature and experiencing the richness of the world around us.
Burdette, H.,L. & Whitaker, R. C. (2005) Resurrecting free play in children: Looking beyond fitness and fatness to attention, affiliation and affect. Archives of Pediatric and Adolescent Medicine, 159, 46-50.
Drew, W (2007, June/July) Make way for play. Scholastic Parent and Child, 40-47.
Fjortoft, I. (2001). The natural environment as a playground for children: The impact of outdoor play activities in pre-primary school children. Early Childhood Education Journal, 29 (2), 111-117.
Taylor, A. F., Kuo, F. E. & Sullivan, W. C. (2001) Coping with ADHD: The surprising connection to green play settings. Environment and Behavior,33, 775-795.