Children are born with a sense of wonder and an affinity for Nature. Properly cultivated, these values can mature into ecological literacy, and eventually into sustainable patterns of living
Today, children’s lives seem to be structured much differently, a world where the phrase “Go play outside” has been replaced by television programs, computer time, and Wii Fit.
Modern humans lived in nature for most of their long history. Even once colonization into cities
occurred, people were surrounded by nature in the fields and farms where they lived.And until thirty or so years ago, children still spent the bulk majority of their free time in contact with nature. Urbanization brought about parks and playgrounds to play in; fields, forests, and empty lots to explore; and even in nearby backyards. Children freely played, explored, and interacted with nature without restriction.
Today’s world is much different. Children no longer freely explore the world around them, and many have extremely limited contact with nature at all. Fear for safety, structured lessons and activities, and electronics are some of the main inhibitors to natural discovery that involve children today. Spontaneous interaction with nature is most often limited, at best.
Free play in nature
Free play in nature encourages children to create games with their own invented rules, conduct experiments with nature, and learn lessons that aren’t “taught” by anyone. These types of “no rules” situations promote inventive play and give children a deeper understanding of nature.
While playground equipment is a perk of modern urbanization, its uses are more finite than those nature provides. Although equipment can be open-ended, imagined as a castle one day and a boat the next, nature is ever changing. Crossing a stream one day might become searching for treasures under river stones another day as the stream dries up. Tactile outdoor experiences teach children differently than
a lesson or even reading about a subject can.
Besides the educational benefits, connecting with nature has more benefits than might be obvious. Research shows that children who are allowed to explore outdoors are socially and emotionally happier and healthier. Unstructured outdoor play is also touted as one of the most direct ways to combat childhood obesity, a very real and prominent problem for children. Vitamin D exposure from the sun is known to help prevent a host of diseases, as well as treat and prevent depression.
Outdoor play gives children the opportunity to value nature, and see it as an important part of of our world. This is a tangible way to ensure that we help them developing environmental stewards who will be both appreciative and respectful of nature as they grow.