Most children today spend significantly more time indoors than playing outside, but research has shown numerous benefits of playing in nature:
1. Nature play makes kids smarter. Spending time in nature improves children’s ability to focus and concentrate. Studies show that nature-based experiential education supports significant academic gains in social studies, science, language, arts and mathematics. Students in outdoor science programs improved their science testing scores by 27%. Spending time in nature exposes children to varying situations where they are forced to learn and adapt.
2. Nature play helps kids develop physically. Regular outdoor play promotes increased flexibility and gross motor skills. Playing on uneven conditions and surfaces helps children to hone their coordination and balancing skills. Outdoor time also improves vision.
3. Nature play gives kids an opportunity to take healthy risks and gain confidence. Real confidence is not about winning a video game. Climbing on rocks or logs helps children understand real world risks; they become better at risk assessment and gain confidence when they’ve accomplished something new. Even if they sustain a minor injury, something in them grows. The lessons we learn from failure are as important as those we learn from success.
4. Nature play has social benefits. When they play in nature, children learn how to work together. They learn to make friends, how to share and cooperate, how to treat others. If they only interact in structured settings, such as school or sports teams, they can’t learn everything they need to know. In nature, children can collaborate to solve problems together.
5. Nature play improves health. It turns out that our bodies need sun. We need sun exposure to make vitamin D, which plays a crucial role in many body processes, from bone development to our immune system. Our bodies work best when they get some sunshine every day.
6. Nature play reduces illness. When children play outside their risk of obesity decreases. Children who play in nature fall sick less often than those who restrict themselves to indoor spaces. Regular exposure to the outside world boosts one’s immune system.
7. Nature play has mental benefits. Children with access to locations with a greater number of plants, greener views and access to natural play areas show reduced stress. Direct association with nature has been proven to improve mood, and reduce depression and mental fatigue.
8. Nature play improves children’s observation skills.
Advantages of increased awareness include increased powers of description, frequency of ideas, innovation, and flexibility of thinking. Improving their observation skills allows children to “listen” with more than just their ears and make better decisions.
9. Nature play improves children’s creativity. When children play outside they use their own imagination to problem-solve and entertain themselves rather than depending on adults. Creativity must be learned and practiced — and to do this, children need unstructured time. They need time alone and with other children, and to be allowed to make up their own games, figure things out, and amuse themselves.
10. Nature play increases children’s appreciation of nature. If a child grows up never walking in the woods, digging in soil, seeing animals in their habitat, climbing a mountain, playing in a stream, or staring at the endless horizon of an ocean, they may never really understand what there is to be lost. The future of our planet depends on our children; they need to learn to appreciate it.1