Kids and Nature
Why Kids Need to Spend Time in Nature: As per Edward O. Wilson
proposed a theory called Biophilia: that humans are instinctively drawn towards
their natural surroundings. Many 21st century parents, however, would question
this theory, as they watch their kids express a clear preference for sitting on
a couch in front of a screen over playing outside.
What is Nature deficit
While calling it a disorder might be merely rhetorical,
it’s clear kids spend significantly more time inside than outside. This shift
is largely due to technology: The average American child is said to spend
4 to 7 minutes a day in unstructured play outdoors, and over 7 hours a day
in front of a screen.
Louv, author of the book Last Child in the
Woods: Saving Our Children From Nature-Deficit Disorder, tells the
story of interviewing a child who told him that he liked playing indoors more
than outdoors because that’s where all the electrical outlets are.”
Increasing parental fears about diseases and dangers of
playing outside—despite evidence to the contrary—are another big factor.
And as suburbs and exurbs continue to expand, nature is
parceled off more, and kids seem less inclined to spend time in a fenced-in
yard, let alone jump the fence into a neighbor’s or walk in the woods. Instead,
indoor activities can seem easier (no sunscreen necessary!), safer, and even
more sociable for kids who are growing up with multiplayer video games
and social media accounts.
Why go outside?
studies have exposed the benefit—even necessity—of spending time
outdoors, both for kids and adults. Some argue that it can be any outdoor
environment. Some claim it has to be a “green” environment—one with trees and
leaves. Others still have shown that just a picture of greenery can benefit
mental health. These nuances aside, most of the studies agree that kids who
play outside are smarter, happier, more attentive, and less anxious than kids
who spend more time indoors. While it’s unclear how exactly the cognitive
functioning and mood improvements occur, there are a few things we do know
about why nature is good for kids’ minds.
It builds confidence. The
way that kids play in nature has a lot less
structure than most types of indoor play. There are infinite ways to interact
with outdoor environments, from the backyard to the park to the local hiking
trail or lake, and letting your child choose how he treats nature means he has
the power to control his own actions.
It promotes creativity
and imagination. This
unstructured style of play also allows kids to interact meaningfully with their
surroundings. They can think more freely, design their own activities, and
approach the world in inventive ways.
responsibility. Living things
die if mistreated or not taken care of properly, and entrusting a child to take
care of the living parts of their environment means they’ll learn what happens
when they forget to water a plant, or pull a flower out by its roots.
It provides different
stimulation. Nature may seem
less stimulating than your son’s violent video game, but in reality, it
activates more senses—you can see, hear, smell, and touch outdoor environments.
“As the young spend less and less of their lives in natural surroundings, their
senses narrow,” Louv warns, “and this reduces the richness of human
It gets kids moving. Most ways of interacting with nature involve more exercise
than sitting on the couch. Your kid doesn’t have to be joining the local soccer
team or riding a bike through the park—even a walk will get her blood pumping.
Not only is exercise good for kids’ bodies, but it seems to make them more
focused, which is especially beneficial for kids with ADHD.
It makes them think. Louv says that nature creates a unique sense of wonder for
kids that no other environment can provide. The phenomena that occur naturally
in backyards and parks everyday make kids ask questions about the earth and the
life that it supports.
It reduces stress and
fatigue. According to the Attention
Restoration Theory, urban environments require what’s called directed
attention, which forces us to ignore distractions and exhausts our brains. In
natural environments, we practice an effortless type of attention known as soft
fascination that creates feelings of pleasure, not fatigue.
while screen time is the easier, more popular choice, it’s important to set
aside time for outdoor play. For fun, stimulating activities you and your kids
can do in nature, see Ideas for Getting Your Kids into Nature.
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