Outdoor Activities To Nurture Your Kid's Bond With Nature
Encourage your kids to bond with nature. Learn how nature activities for toddlers and preschoolers benefits their overall well-being. Also see a list of fun indoor and outdoor activities for kids.
By Amrita Gracias
“When children come into contact with nature, they reveal their strengths.” - Maria Montessori
When the world’s most influential child educator says so, it’s something you need to listen to.
As parents, our children’s wellness is our main focus. And, we constantly strive to ensure that their physical, mental and emotional well-being is taken care of. We turn to several tried and tested methods and even seek new ones to help provide these essential requisites. But, in the process, are we forgetting the most basic and best source of their well-being — bonding with nature. Outdoor activities for kids and nature activities for toddlers are means to strengthen their connection with nature.
Bonding with nature
Noted American author and journalist Richard Louv explains in detail why children should embrace the natural world. In his book, ‘Last Child in the World: Saving Our Children From Nature-Deficit Disorder’, Louv examines the relationship between nature and children while explaining why nature is essential for their healthy physical and emotional development.
According to Louv, the increasing disconnect between children and nature is reaching alarming proportions. He urges parents to look at several negative effects of this ‘ignorance’ on health and other social capabilities of children. The absence of this essential bond can lead to attention disorders, depression and obesity, apart from leading to lack of imagination and creativity. The important role of nature in child development cannot be overlooked.
Why are children disconnected from the natural environment, today?
- Rapidly changing social conditions, including urbanisation and space constraints.
- Concerns about safety and pollution.
- Technology and indoor entertainment (the biggest contributors to the dire situation).
- A gradual but decisive shift from outdoor to indoor play.
These unfortunate circumstances have led to both children and adults being ignorant about the remarkable benefits of being outdoors and enjoying every bit of nature. Moreover, when children do not experience this essential union with nature, they don’t care about the environment as much as they should. Worryingly, it has also been found that children are not exposed to nature as much as they should be.
Benefits of outdoor activity and connecting with nature
1. Physical benefits
Outdoor physical play is essential for the following reasons:
- When children are encouraged to play outside, they are more physically active. This reduces the risk of obesity and other related diseases.
- Outdoor play involves actions like climbing, jumping, running and walking on different surfaces.
- These activities help improve both gross motor skills like balance, coordination and agility, and fine motor skills like hand-eye coordination.
- Playing with mud, sand, stones, water and sticks can actually enhance their immunity levels.
2. Cognitive benefits
Play that encourages a diverse range of activities promotes:
- Increased creativity and imagination and also, improved cognitive functioning.
- Enhanced self-confidence and problem-solving abilities.
- Interacting with nature also leads to enhanced observational skills.
Natural environments are made up of challenging spaces where children learn to recognise and assess risks. It allows for effortless focus, thus improving attention, memory and other cognitive skills. It also provides an excellent sensory experience. Here, children learn through various encounters using sight, hearing, touch, smell and even taste, in some instances!
3. Social and emotional benefits
Being in the natural world leads to better life skills:
- Free and unstructured outdoor play lets your child interact with other children, thus nurturing social relationships.
- It also improves communication, language and collaborative skills.
- When children are exposed to and allowed to enjoy nature, they learn to be more caring of it. They also understand why it is important to safeguard and conserve natural resources.
- Engaging in play while connecting to nature is relaxing and provides a sense of calm, lowering stress levels. Research indicates that free outdoor play can help reduce Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) symptoms and other behavioural disorders or depression.
- Access to an open environment enables children to choose, and this allows them to gain confidence in themselves and their choices. It also teaches self-control and self-discipline.
Shobha Menon, Trustee and founding member of Nizhal, a Chennai-based non-profit trust that promotes tree conservation, says:
“The natural environment stimulates the child’s intellectual, emotional, social and physical development. Nature is a giant, open-ended learning laboratory where children are provided countless opportunities for discovery, creativity and problem-solving. Interacting with natural environments allows children to learn by doing and experiment with ideas.”
Forest bathing and its benefits
'Forest bathing' does sound strange, right? But you would be amazed at its wonderful benefits. It’s nothing but being in the presence of trees, and was introduced by the Japanese in 1982, as a programme called ‘Shinrin-yoku’ which means ‘taking in the forest atmosphere'.
How can we do this?
Forest bathing doesn’t involve any physical activity like hiking, trekking or even stretching. It’s all about being in the forest and enjoying its serene bliss. It’s almost like doing nothing and letting nature do all the nurturing — be it in a forest or a city park.
What are its benefits?
- Improves immunity and energises
- Decreases risk of heart attack
- Prevents obesity and diabetes
- Reduces stress, calms the body and mind
- Cleans up the lungs
- Prevents skin disorders
So, take your children to the nearest park and let them just enjoy the atmosphere. Nature will open out her arms and embrace them with all the goodness. What's more, it will do a world of good to your child's mental and physical health too.
About the expert:
Reviewed by Arundhati Swamy on 23 October 2019
Arundhati Swamy holds a master’s degree in Social Work with specialisation in Family and Child Welfare from the Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Mumbai. She is currently a counsellor for a number of leading schools in the city.
About the author:
Written by Amrita Gracias on 03 December 2018; updated on 21 November 2019
Amrita Gracias holds a degree in English Literature from Stella Maris College, Chennai and a Post Graduate Diploma in Journalism (specialising in Print Media) from the Asian College of Journalism, Chennai. She takes to writing and editing when she isn’t answering to the duties of motherhood!
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