“Unless we are willing to encourage our children to reconnect with and appreciate the natural world, we can’t expect them to help protect and care for it”- David Suzuki
Did your parents ever tell you to play outside? Sure, there’s a chance that they probably just wanted to get you out of the house for a bit, but you might want to thank them for sending you outside. Studies are showing that spending more time outside can actually be incredibly beneficial for children and adults alike, and not just because of the fresh air.
Spending time outside has some often overlooked benefits for developing brains. First, there’s the benefit of encouraging curiosity and imagination that comes from playing outdoors. Then, there are deeper developmental skills like concentration, depth perception, and motor skills that are increased with playing outside (resource here). Today, when kids are playing indoors, they’re usually looking at screens of some sort, which can limit their visual development. Getting outside allows them to really experience the physical world and give their senses a chance to develop. Using a screen doesn’t offer anything to the senses- there’s no smell, no touch (think texture here- touch screens don’t count!), maybe some manufactured sound, and a sense of two-dimensional sight (as mentioned before). By getting immersed in nature, children are creating a bond with the physical world and allowing their senses to develop, not to mention the benefits of encouraging the use of imagination and unstructured play.
Getting outside (as our parents probably noticed) is also great way to burn off some excess energy in a healthy way: “Children cannot bounce off the walls if we take away the walls” (Erin Kenny). Rather than just telling them to go outside, though, what about getting out and joining them? “Don’t just tell your kids to be active and to get outside and play. Lead by example.” Summer Sanders. If your kids are reluctant for some reason to head outdoors, just go with them. Make it a part of family time- you can head to a local park, playground, or the backyard if you have that option. I guarantee that you’ll feel better by the end of the adventure, too.
As an adult, you can benefit from being outside just as much as the kids. Richard Louv, author of The Last Child in the Woods and The Nature Principle, explains something he refers to as “nature deficit disorder” in this interview with National Geographic. He argues that all humans are happier, more creative, and healthier when they immerse themselves in nature on a regular basis. If you’ve ever gone for a hike, walk, swim, or bike outside after a stressful day, you’ll probably concede that connecting with nature has some undeniable benefits. Louv concedes that for those of us who live in urban areas it’s difficult to access nature, so he offers a few ideas on how to do so.
This Earth Day, and every day that you possibly can, spend some time outdoors enjoying nature with your family. You never know what kind of magic you’ll find out there- as Roald Dahl reminds us in James and the Giant Peach: “There are a whole lot of things in this world of ours that you haven’t started wondering about yet.” Happy exploring!