Children and nature

The great outdoors is one of the best playgrounds and classrooms. It’s a source of wonder and of adventure. It can fire the imagination. It can stimulate the senses. And it can start a lifelong love affair with the natural world.

In 2007 many nature related words such as kingfisher, lark, minnow, newt and otter were removed from the Oxford Children’s Dictionary in favour of words like broadband and cut and paste. Whilst at the time there was outrage towards the publishers at these nature words being removed – it was wrongly directed. Rather than be a decision by editors of the dictionary, these words were removed as they were not in common use across children’s literature and writing (they do a 100 million word review to compile the list). To get these words back in the Oxford Children’s Dictionary – they need to be used far more frequently.

In 2016 a survey commissioned by the National Trust showed that children were spending less than half the time outdoors on average per week compared to what their parents did when they were their age (4 hours a week compared to 8.2 hours a week). The reason for this decline? Technology and the expansion of in-home entertainment is the primary cause. From the comfort of the sofa you’re able to travel the world, enter new worlds and discover hidden kingdoms – all without getting any dirt anywhere near you. That may be great for your laundry pile – but is it really good for your child?

Health benefits

Connecting with nature has so many benefits – both to mental and physical health. Soil has a bacteria called Mycobacterium vaccae which acts as a natural antidepressant as it activities brain cells that not only reduce anxiety but also improves your mood. There have also been studies that have shown that those who consume traces of soil are more resistant to some diseases. Maybe those mud pies that we made as children were health food after all?

Outdoor play has been proven to be beneficial for the eyesight of children. A study that took place over two years in Australia on 2,000 children showed that those who spent more time outdoors were less likely to develop near-sightedness (myopia). Other studies have subsequently shown that this through having both a horizon and depth of field of vision to focus on as opposed to be in the confines of a house looking at a screen.

Time spent in nature has been proven to have a beneficial effect on the behaviour of children. A study of pre-schoolers found that nature-connected kids were better-behaved. The study found that they were less likely to suffer from emotional difficulties, and more likely to show kindness toward others. 

Positive mental attitude

Importantly – it has also been shown that by having positive experiences of being in nature as a child will stay with you through life and will not only show children the importance of respecting the natural world but also that they should protect it too. A study following children from the age of 6 showed that those who spent more time outdoors had a positive correlation with environmentally responsible behaviour in adulthood. 

Sweet dreams

At the end of the day – the dream of many parents is that their children fall straight to sleep at night. Whilst time spent outdoors isn’t going to help make your children sleep for longer – it will help them fall asleep much quicker.

Outdoor play

If you’re looking for some inspiration for fun things to do in the great outdoors – we’re here to help!

  • Gather together fallen branches to make a den.
  • If there’s a pond, stream or brook – grab yourself a net and go pond dipping
  • Autumn is a great time for kicking up piles of leaves – just be careful in case any animal has made their home in the pile!
  • Watch the clouds – what shapes can you see? Maybe it’s a bear, a boat or a whale?
  • Look for different shapes and colours in nature – how many different types of leaves can you see? Do you know the names for each of the trees that they come from?
  • Become a nature detective by looking for tracks left by wild animals. How far can you follow them? If you’re lucky enough to see what made the tracks – remember to keep some distance from them so as not to scare them.
  • If it’s a blustery day – in the words of Mary Poppins … go fly a kite.
  • On snowy days – make snowmen and snow angels.
  • Plant seeds and watch them grow over the coming weeks and months. 
  • What else are puddles for if not jumping in them! Remember – there’s no such thing as bad weather, just the wrong clothes!

So what are you waiting for – get out there and make the most of the natural world that’s around you. We’d love to hear about your favourite outdoor nature activities too!

If you’d like to discover new green spaces near where you live – check out The Outdoor Guide for inspiration.

Please support our work

The Global Wildlife Rescue Project is a registered charity in England & Wales. Registered charity number 1188557.

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