Studies show that children who spent more time outdoors and in natural spaces had better cognitive and sensory abilities and love for nature
Engagement with Nature is Important
Though I grew up in a city where access to nature was limited, I always loved nature and natural surroundings. And we always had a pet at home. I remember how excited we children would be to visit a park or zoo. We used to play outdoors mostly and in retrospect, I think this contributed to our general good health. I remember we hardly had any health issues back then.
Children today need to connect with nature more and learn of the endless wonders in it. They should be given the chance to experience nature’s magic. The escape into an imaginary world of nature and its inhabitants can bring out the artist in the child. It was the same with my daughter. She loved animals and a visit to the zoo was her favorite pastime. We often took her to parks and zoos. I think every child is born with a tendency to love nature and it is up to us to expose them to it by whatever means possible. And where direct access is not possible, it could be through books, movies, or art related to nature.
Benefits of Nature on Children
As we enter into an era of urbanization and industrialization, children are distanced from nature which is unfortunate because children who grow up enjoying nature will grow up to be happier and healthier. So here is a list of benefits of nature on children:
# Best Gift to children
The gift of nature provides immense biological, cognitive, and spiritual benefits to children. It has been observed that children who grow up in a nature deficit atmosphere have attention difficulties and more physical and emotional illnesses which affects their future also. Co-founder and chairman emeritus of the Children & Nature Network, Richard Louv in his book ‘Last Child in the woods’ has termed the deficiency suffered by children due to non-connect with nature as Nature-Deficit-disorder.
- Research shows that an exceptional rate of brain development is observed in infants from birth to age five through outdoor experiences.
- Active outdoor play which most schools try to include in the curriculum these days is known to help in the development of core skills like problem-solving, learning, reasoning, resilience, creativity, and social and emotional learning.
- As the activities of our children move from outdoors to indoors, their dependency on technology increases which can be dangerous. Learning from nature can reducing the dependency on technology, can improve their imagination and resourcefulness.
"In every walk with nature, one receives far more than he seeks"
— John Muir(Mountaineer)
# Bond with Nature Vital for Children
Nature is a child’s first glimpse into magic and wonder. Children have an innate bond with nature. Nature has a bounty of wonderful experiences for the children. The amazement at the sight of colorful, beautiful birds soaring in the sky, the different hues of flowers and plants, the delight on the child’s face when seeing the shimmering colors on the wings of a butterfly sitting on a flower, hearing the croaking of the frogs, the hum of the bees, a murmur of the leaves are all experiences which enhance the lives of our children and which are very vital for them. They learn a lot watching an orderly row of ants marching with determination and discipline. These are the benefits of bonding with Nature.
- Improves the children's ability to learn
- It helps build their confidence
- It helps build Self-discipline
- Improve academic development
- Helps them to be calm
- Helps develop good values
- They learn important life lessons
- And they learn about the importance of ecosystems and ecological balance
# Nature as the Foundation for Development
Children’s relationship with nature and animals is a foundation for development in life. As children learn more about nature they grow up to be better human beings. The following benefits of connecting with nature have been observed:
- Increase in cognitive development, social skills, creativity, awareness, concentration.
- Increase in resilience, self esteem, spiritual quotient and reduced stress and anxiety.
- Become more productive, actively engage in community activities as they grow up.
- They learn to appreciate the intricacies and beauty of nature.
- Develop a love for nature and grow up to develop a responsibility to protect the environment.
- They inspire their parents and friends to care for nature and develop greener habits.
- They grow up to be more generous, caring, helpful to others.
# Living in Harmony with Nature
Children should get an opportunity to discover the multiple forms of life in nature and learn how-to live-in harmony with them. With their simplicity and innocence they are able to appreciate nature and its diversity. They develop a connection with it and each other.
Children should know that nature provides us with the basic essentials for all life, like the air we breathe, the food we eat, the water we drink, the space to live, and shelter to be safe, and how essential it is to conserve and protect it. They should be made aware that human health and well-being are intricately linked to the other systems of life in nature and we need to develop a healthy relationship with it that is nurturing and rejuvenating.
The sooner we realize that we humans are just one part of an interconnected and interdependent web of life, the better care we will take of our environment and protect it. The ancient tradition of Sanatana Dharma practiced in India recognizes the oneness with all life. Simply being in the midst of beautiful nature can calm the most agitated nerves and an anxious mind and soothe a disturbed soul.
"Adopt the pace of Nature. Her secret is patience"
— Ralph Waldo Emerson
# Enormous Health Benefits
Children who spend more time outdoors tend to enjoy more physical activity and as a result, they enjoy enormous health benefits. As little as half an hour of outdoor play per week has helped decrease the symptoms of psychosomatic illness and psychological symptoms as per a study of Canadian adolescents. The following health benefits have been observed:
- Reduced rate of obesity due to more physical activity as children spend more time outdoors.
- Chronic diseases like diabetes, heart disease, and other cardiovascular diseases can be avoided with increased outdoor engagement.
- Better mental health as natural spaces promote calmness and relief from stress and anxiety and help in overall psychological wellbeing.
- Reduces the symptoms of ADHD in children suffering from the disorder.
- Improvement in immunity as natural environments provide cleaner air and more oxygen to breathe.
- Helps improve vitamin D naturally from being exposed to sunlight.
- Improves sleep patterns with increase in physical activities.
- Helps in de-addiction from electronic gadgets and exposure to unwanted information.
- Outdoor activities like jumping, climbing, running help in improving muscle strength.
- Physical activities outdoors help in the release of endorphins which keep the children happier and healthier.
"Enjoy your walks amidst nature and rejuvenate yourself"
Ways we can ensure children's connection with nature
Fear of safety, the harm caused by ultraviolet radiation, pollution are the main deterrents for not allowing children to play outdoors by parents today. So children do not get a chance to experience, experiment nature, and appreciate its wonders resulting in the children developing an apathy to the environment and grow up to exploit the resources. To avoid this it is important for children to connect with nature from a young age. And parents and educators and urban planners can help in this process. So here are a few tips for children's nature connect:
No.1) Green Schoolyards
With growing urbanization, there are lesser and lesser means for children to access nature. Added to this the fear of the safety of the children, threat of infections, and exposure to harsh climates all add to the apprehension that parents face in allowing children to play outdoors. In such a situation, Green Schoolyards are one way to improve children's connection with nature.
As children spend a significant portion of their day at school, ensuring access to nature at school is a good way to connect children with nature. Book reading, storytelling sessions, art classes can be held in these green schoolyards. Learning outside in natural settings can be invigorating and calming. A compulsory outdoor activity, play should be included in the curriculum every day unless the weather is not conducive to the activity.
Games like a I-spy, jump rope, hide and seek are favorite games that children love and can be conducted in these green yards. Schools can arrange trips to parks and zoos once a month and later discuss the event with the children in the class and ask them about the things that they observed and liked during the visit and educate them about the facts concerning the plants and animals which interest them.
Educationists and academicians should support outdoor learning initiatives for children to actively connect with nature. Teaching and learning should include natural outdoor spaces so that the contact and connection with the natural world are ensured at the primary and secondary school levels. Green spaces are linked to higher academic accomplishments. Outdoor games like basketball, football, tennis badminton should be included in playtime.
No.2) Green connects With Gardening
Gardening is an ideal option to make children know and care for nature. It can be a fun activity for children staying indoors. Parents can engage with the children in growing herbs and small plants in their terrace or balcony. Nurturing plants can help children bond with nature and develop many skills. Involving the children in the gardening process like finding the right place, good soil, watering, and taking care of the plants will be a good way to connect with nature, and also fun for the children. At the same time, it can be stress alleviating and rewarding for both the parents and the children.
Create a herb garden or veggie park involving the children either in the backyard or balcony. A small space can also be converted into a tiny garden. You can teach the children how to make your own compost with food scraps and peels. Sow seeds with them and watch the plants grow. Ask the children to observe the changes in the plant as it grows, ask them to identify and label the parts like stem, root, leaves, flowers, etc. Teach them the process of photosynthesis. While nurturing the plants they can also learn a lot about botany. They will be amazed when they see the veggies grow and the colorful flowers bloom.
No.3) Lead by Example
Nature has immense health benefits to adults too. So, parents should plan outdoor trips to parks and zoos often with the children. It can relieve them of stress and help the children connect with nature. When the children see parents, educators and caretakers devote their time and energy caring for trees, plans, and the environment, they will imbibe the same qualities because children often learn by example. Thus, they will grow up to be nature nurturers.
The best way to reconnect with nature is to observe. When children pay attention to the sights, sounds, and smells of nature around us, be it our own backyard, park, or forest trail, they begin to enjoy the experiences. Ask them to observe the different shaped rocks, different colored leaves or watch the shape of the clouds, look at the stars at night, watch the sunset, sunrise, and write down what they saw in a nature journal. Once they understand that we are a part of nature and not different from it, they will learn to respect and preserve it.
No.4) Urban Forests and Urban Wildlife
Policymakers, educators, urban architects, and other professionals should plan to establish urban forests, urban wildlife, green walls, green schoolyards to connect humans with nature, and enhance human and economic potential. Nature should be incorporated into every building in every city. Urban forests not only add beauty to the design of a city but also provide clean air, regulate storm water, conserve rainwater, provide animal habitat, shade, control climate change and contribute to the overall health of the people.
These urban forests in turn will become the habitat of urban wildlife like birds, small mammals. Energy consumption can be reduced as the pleasant atmosphere throughout the year reduces the need for cooling and heating arrangements in homes. As a result, there is a reduction in carbon dioxide emissions from power plants. This in turn protects the ozone layer of the atmosphere.
In the book 'Children and Nature: psychological, sociological, and evolutionary investigations' edited by Peter Kahn and Stephen Kellert, they have stressed the importance of animals and nature in nurturing children’s relationships, especially in early and middle childhood. Edward Osborne Wilson the famous American biologist, naturalist, and writer, in his book Biophilia, described the term Biophilia hypothesis which suggests that humans possess the innate tendency to connect with nature and other forms of life. Regular visits to these urban forests can be educative and therapeutic to the children and help in their bonding with nature from a young age.
No.5) Nature activity and games
Plan outdoor games like a treasure hunt, bug hunting, Marbles, Hopscotch, etc., even if only in the backyard of the house. Frisbees, hoops, balls, and parachutes are all good backyard toys for children. Making a list of the nearby natural spaces like parks, gardens, and planning for regular outings and trips is a good start. Games and activities on these outings can also be planned where the children will have fun, at the same time learn a lot from nature. Add paints, brushes, watercolors, and soap bubbles for art and craft on these outings.
Games like charades, Pictionary, musical chairs can all be added to the itinerary. Storytelling and reading stories are the all-time favorite of children and the sylvan surroundings add to the mystery and imagination in the stories. Outdoor photoshoots, making an outdoor movie can be added to make these outings fun. Bikes, roller skates, and scooters are great for riding on areas safe from traffic. Along with being fun, they are a good form of exercise for the children. Walking and Cycling through green paths should be encouraged as everyday engagements to promote connection with nature.
No.6) Art on Nature and Children
Every child has an innate bond with nature. It is important to introduce art on nature to children and teach them to appreciate its beauty by invoking the gift of imagination that every child has. Children need to be exposed to nature via all possible means like books, movies, paintings. They should be encouraged to draw pictures by observing natural things all around them and make art with small items brought from nature walks like twigs, leaves, petals of flowers, pebbles, shells, etc. Forums should be created for young artists to express their talent through articles or pictures on environment and ecology.
Children can access nature everywhere. Whether in the backyard, the park, the beach, or even a sidewalk with trees in it, can be a source of inspiration for the children to express their creativity. Studies show that sensory play where young children explore the world with all their senses through hands-on experience builds nerve connections in the brain’s pathways that increase the child’s ability to complete complex learning tasks. As the children’s appreciation of the natural beauty in the world deepens, their respect for the environment also increases and they grow up and involve in activities to help preserve mother earth and her natural treasures. Children’s Festivals to promote art on nature can be conducted to promote connections with the natural world.
Child development experts stress the importance of outdoor play and nature connect to children from a young age, for healthy physical and mental development, and for developing self-confidence and independence. A simple obstacle course and a trampoline jump in the backyard is good exercise, which not only limits screen time but is fun for the children.
Research shows that children who spend more time in natural spaces are happier and healthier and have better cognitive, social, emotional and spiritual abilities. They are emotionally stable have greater resilience and better immunity. With the vigilant care of the parents and educators, the safety of the children can be ensured. When children learn to care for nature and the environment from a young age, they grow up to respect nature and participate actively in its protection.
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.
© 2020 VIDYA D SAGAR
VIDYA D SAGAR (author) on October 22, 2020:
Thanks Deepak for the visit and for your kind comments. Outdoor play and nature connectiont are important for children. Research shows that children who grow up amidst nature in the formative years are healthier and happier. So steps have to be taken before it is too late.
Deepak on October 22, 2020:
Wonderful article Vidya. It is very relevant at these times when children are so stressed being confined at home due to the pandemic. They need to rejuvenate amidst nature, be it their own backyard or front yard or any green spaces nearby. The illustrations are also beautiful.
VIDYA D SAGAR (author) on October 19, 2020:
Hi Pramod, thanks for the visit and for your kind comments. Growing up in cities, our children often miss the opportunity to access nature. This is a great loss to them because there is so much they can learn and gain from the natural environment. In such a situation, it is up to the parents, caretakers, and other authorities to ensure that the children are not deprived of their inheritance of the valuable bounty of nature.
Pramod Savur on October 19, 2020:
I agree with all points in this article. It's high time we take the children back to nature before it's too late.
VIDYA D SAGAR (author) on October 18, 2020:
Thanks for the visit and the nice comments. I appreciate it. More and more studies confirm that outdoor activities are crucial not only for good physical and mental health of children but also for improved cognitive, social, and emotional skills, enhanced perception, and imagination.
VIDYA D SAGAR (author) on October 18, 2020:
Thanks, Raksha for the encouraging comments. Screen addiction is the main cause of concern for parents these days. This can also lead to health problems for children, apart from their missing out on appreciating the beauty of nature and learning first hand from the experiences with it. We need to incorporate nature connect in the lives of our children so that they grow up to be happier and healthier and learn to care for the environment from an early age.
Abhishek nandavar on October 18, 2020:
Perfect amalgamation of child health with outdoor activities. Loved the article.
Raksha on October 18, 2020:
Beautiful Article. Very true. Children these days are glued to TV and Mobile smart phones and hardly have any connection with nature. Gone are those days where children would be on the streets playing. This article definitely highlights importance of nature in children’s life.
VIDYA D SAGAR (author) on October 07, 2020:
Hi Pamela, thank you for the visit and the kind comments. Now due to the pandemic it is difficult to go on vacations or outings, so children tend to miss out on a connection with nature which is a so important. It is a great source of learning and fun at the same time. That's my granddaughter who loves nature and animals.
Pamela Oglesby from Sunny Florida on October 07, 2020:
This is a wonderful article. I agree that children need to connect with nature and spending time outdoors in the fresh air is certainly healthier than the children sitting in front of the TV or computer. I really like your large group of great pictures