Mother Nature as Teacher, Playmate and Babysitter


Today we feature a guest post from author of Small Fry Outdoors, Caroline Webster, about the importance of time outdoors for children.

I firmly believe that time outdoors provides at least SIX critical benefits for our children:

  1. It combats obesity: Even just one or two hours a week spent outside will help teach children the value and benefits of physical activity;
  2. It’s a great de-stresser. Little children can become just as stressed as we do.Down time is as important to them as it is to us.Periods of quiet reflection outdoors (not having to think or perform) recharges little bodies and minds, making them more focused during times of formal learning, be it at home, preschool or primary school.And quite frankly, sometimes we need to get them out of our hair! Mother Nature can be a good circuit breaker when tempers get frayed.
  3. Real world learning: Spending time outside develops fine and gross motor skills (jumping, climbing, skipping, picking flowers etc) and provides lessons on the senses and various concepts such as literacy and numeracy, time and the cycle and web of life.
  4. It helps fuel and foster imagination and creativity. Imaginative play is essential for brain development and has been linked to improving IQ.Spending time outdoors grows smarter children!
  5. It provides the opportunity for unstructured play which encourages resilience, independence and self-confidence. I also believe that it may well lessen the likelihood of “learned helplessness.” That is, if we do everything for our children – over-structuring every minute of their day – it can result in an over-reliance on others to provide their entertainment and diminishes their capacity to independently learn. The child who suffers from learned helplessness will always rely on others, or turn to others, for solutions, often resulting in poor social skills and low self-esteem. They will not become future leaders nor will they manage the school yard as effectively as they could.They could become more prone to bullying or become bullies themselves.
  6. It provides early understanding of the environment and their place within it. This helps with understanding complex issues such as climate change and teaches them about food, medicinal and shelter sources.This is critical given they are the future custodians of our precious planet.

Here are five top tips for getting children outside that worked for me:

  1. Entrance them. Help them find fairies and trolls and magic everywhere. Use natural resources whenever you can in imaginative play. Agapanthus becomes sword, cicadas become brooches, chase rainbows to find their end, etc. By making the outdoor experience a magical & fun one, we can lead children to developing their own sustained interest in the practical side of being outdoors.
  2. Give them a regular outdoor project. A veggie patch is a great start. Or a nature journal, rain gauge or mushroom kit.
  3. Involve them early in your outdoor chores. Eg. weeding, hanging out the washing, washing the dog, pruning, watering the garden. Make it fun!
  4. Take their indoor activities outside – Lego, handheld computer games, books and colouring-in can all be undertaken outdoors.
  5. Encourage them to be as wild as they want. Let them learn that outside is a place where they can dance, sing and yell their little lungs out but it is also a place where they can be still and enjoy periods of reflection.

Editor is Christie Burnett