The great outdoors helps childrens social, emotional & physical development
Children and nature go together; they embrace it and love to learn about living things in the world around them.
It is important to introduce children to nature and the natural world from an early age as it promotes curiosity and interest in their environment, and exploration and understanding of plants and animals. We can all remember the fascination of counting the dots on a ladybird’s back if we were lucky enough to have one land on our hand or arm, collecting woodlice in a box or watching a snail recede back in to its shell when we picked them up from the garden after the rain!
Children’s social, emotional, and physical development is linked to exposure to nature to develop, and we should ensure that they have plenty of opportunities to experience it first-hand. Children become better observers and feel more connected to the outdoors while they expand their imagination to create special places such as dens and huts, and use natural items to create stories and play. Equally important, being outside encourages an appreciation of the natural world on which we depend. There can never be too much nature in a child’s life as it is the antidote to the fast-paced, world in which many young children live. Parents often feel pressured to fill their children's time with lessons, organised sports and structured activities of every kind and whilst such activities are often positive, they can be overdone. There is a point of diminishing returns, when over-scheduling activities begins to cut into a child's full use of the senses, natural creativity and free-play time.
A simple way to introduce children to nature is to take them on short hikes or nature walks into the woods, starting when they are very young. Young children need no encouragement to love being outside as everything around them is still magical and interesting such as insects, birds, stones, flowers. The key is to keep taking them on walks in the woods or fishing, hiking, or camping throughout their childhood, even when they start to say it’s boring in the pre-teen years! They will gain so much from understanding how life outdoors works.
There is also a range of wonderful sensorial experiences in nature to be enjoyed all year round, whatever the weather. Go for a walk in the rain as children can listen to the sounds of raindrops on leaves and of course, get to splash in puddles and mud or on the seafront. As the saying goes, there is no such thing as bad weather, only bad clothes so put on their rain jackets and wellingtons and get the whole family outside to listen to the sounds in the fields and woods. Children love the feel of wet sand as well and it makes much better sandcastles!
Another option is to bring nature indoors and display natural items collected by your children in a designated area in the kitchen or utility area – have a low table at their height where you child can place shells, bark, leaves, pinecones, seaweed or whatever treasures they find when they are outside. Bring in natural elements like rocks, twigs and sea shells as natural parts of the home environment throughout the seasons and make them part of their play space. Try to ensure that play areas have a view of outside and have as much natural light as possible as children are helped both psychologically and cognitively by natural light - they feel better and they learn better.
Take your child to the zoo, the aquarium or to the farm in the springtime when all the baby animals are in the fields. You may find that your younger children will have a favourite animal or fish and they love to look at pictures or have a soft toy version – encourage this by buying books about the animal, putting real pictures on their bedroom wall and creating artwork for the fridge. Always share your enthusiasm about nature, but remember not to be too heavy-handed about it or overly enthusiastic. If your child feels that you are always ‘teaching’ them, they might get turned off. Instead, share your sense of wonder and point out things around them without turning it into a lesson!
Remember that nature instils a sense of beauty, calmness and wonder in everyone and it is never too early to begin to enjoy the living world with your child.