Let’s consider some of the rewards we gain from spending time outside… our creativity, our propensity for passion, the longevity of our lives. While technological advances have changed civilization in many positive ways, people are spending less time outside than ever before. By reintroducing children to nature and creating opportunities to spend plenty of time outdoors, mothers can proactively remind children to tap into their powerful connection with Mother Earth.
Direct Benefits of Outdoor Play
While outdoor play doesn’t directly help children run faster, jump farther, or climb higher, it grants them the freedom to run as fast as they can, climb a bit higher, and try all kinds of activities that aren’t possible indoors. As children stretch beyond limits imposed by an interior play space, they step onto a stage more conducive for developing athletic skills and abilities… the great outdoors.
Experiences with the natural world offer an abundance of benefits, ranging from peaceful serenity to awe-inspiring power, delivering restorative infusions of emotional, mental, physical, and spiritual healing. Children who develop and foster their connection with nature are typically better-behaved, more likely to show kindness, and less likely to struggle with emotional problems.
Sunlight synchronizes our brains with the natural rhythms of day and night, engaging the timeless programming of our circadian rhythm; our brain’s “inner clock” that regulates the sleep-wake cycle. As nighttime approaches, people whose brains have been exposed to sunlight more readily produce melatonin (the hormone that causes sleepiness), influencing the human body to shift gears from “daily grind” to “nightly rest.” Meanwhile, artificial lighting can suppress or delay melatonin release. By encouraging outdoor play and limiting exposure to screen time during the 60-90 minutes leading up to lights-out, we’re likely to get a better night’s sleep.
As our skin absorbs sunlight, our bodies create Vitamin D, supporting bone health, lowering blood pressure, preventing disease, and promoting good mental health. While long hours in dim lighting can impair our ability to learn, bright light helps us concentrate and enhances learning capabilities.
Can We Make Playing Outside Cool Again?
Before the digital hooks of screen time hijacked recreational activities of yesteryear, people of all ages and backgrounds played outside, creating excellent opportunities for social learning. Today, we drive past empty basketball courts when it is 72 degrees outside and sunny. For old timers who remember the world before the internet, it’s like something out of The Twilight Zone. Imagine the immeasurable long-term benefits to the social construct from a global movement of children putting away electronic devices to just go outside and play with their friends!
Children who spend lots of time playing outside are typically less stressed and more cheerful, both of which make it easier to make friends and maintain friendships.
Not all outdoor spaces are created equally. Just being outside an apartment building isn’t nearly the same as looking out from the top of a mountain peak over vast canyons or luscious forest canopies. Take a moment to appreciate the surreal magnificence of amazing natural events; a brilliant sky, a roaming hawk hunting silently overhead, the wind ripping across a grove of trees—frenzied leaves fluttering in the breeze. When we step outside the door in the morning, take pause to taste and smell the air, listen to the birds singing, gaze at the clouds, allow our spirit to reconnect with the universe. Our children tend to value what we value, teach them about these moments. Show them the beauty of the natural world and they will likely follow in our footsteps, caring for the world they will ultimately inherit.
Movements and textures found outside widen children’s sensory experiences, offering a hands-on understanding of how things work. Running through a puddle makes a splash, stomping through mud let’s children feel a squish. As children grow older, introduce activities with increased levels of intensity, such as hiking, fishing, sailing, and skiing.
When it comes to free-spirited engagement with nature, children often hear, “No, don’t throw that rock,” “No, get out of that tree,” “No, don’t play over there- you’ll get dirty!” At the teensiest risk of injury, well-meaning helicopter parents forbid children from taking chances. By stopping playfully engaged children in their tracks, we plant seeds of fear, inhibit them from learning to appropriately navigate risk, and effectively stunt their growth. The bigger risk is NOT letting children enjoy free-spirited engagement.
Let’s support the innocent curiosity children have with the natural world by watching from a safe distance, zooming in (only when necessary—which shouldn’t be very often), and zooming back out again to let them do their thing. If we don’t encourage children to test themselves, how will they learn? Rather than instilling worry, let’s inspire the self-confidence and courage they’ll need to overcome challenges. While mothers should never abandon efforts to enforce safety rules, shouldn’t we shift our mindset from “as safe as possible” to “as safe as necessary?”
If we have a yard that gives us fertile soil, consider planting a garden. When children are involved in planting, watering, harvesting, and of course eating delicious home-grown fruits and vegetables, this can be an amazing experience they’ll never forget!
Let’s be real. Technology can be super cool. Nevertheless, mothers should forbid tech from severing our family’s connection with the great outdoors. Now more than ever, hold close to the words of American author, Richard Louv, “All children need nature. Not just the ones whose parents appreciate nature. Not only those children of a certain economic class or culture or set of abilities. Every child.”
“For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse.” —Romans 1:20 NIV
The experts at National Geographic present a delightful reference that introduces young children to bugs of all kinds: big and small, jumping and crawling, colorful and creepy. This charming book explores backyard favorites, such as ladybugs and lightning bugs, and introduces kids to more exotic species that inhabit rain forests and deserts around the world.
When two curious kids embark on a “wonder walk,” they let their imaginations soar as they look at the world in a whole new light. They have thought-provoking questions for everything they see: Is the sun the world’s light bulb? Is dirt the world’s skin? Are rivers the earth’s veins? Is the wind the world breathing? I wonder…
This book is ideal for the children who like gaming, TV, movies, the soft couch, and even too many snacks. The kids who believe “there’s nothing to do outside” can learn and be encouraged to experience the joy of outdoor play.
Whether planning an over night in the backyard or a weekend in the wilderness, this book is packed with stuff to know, from gearing up to choosing a site to building a tarp tent.
The inviting text helps readers identify what to look for when tracking animals (or imagining tracking them) in the wild or in the back yard: tracks and footprints; feeding signs; droppings and pellets; animal dens, nests, and hiding places; and other specific signs of animal behavior.
An illuminating account of the forest, and the science that shows us how trees communicate, feel, and live in social networks. After reading this book, a walk in the woods will never be the same again.
While out exploring one day, a little boy named Liam discovers a struggling garden and decides to take care of it. As time passes, the garden spreads throughout the dark, gray city, transforming it into a lush, green world.
This is the perfect book for aspiring astronauts or any kid who loves learning and science. The universe is a mysterious place. We are only just learning what happens in space.
52 open-ended activities to help you engage your child in the outdoors. No matter what your location—from a small patch of green in the city to the wide-open meadows of the country—each activity is meant to promote exploration, stimulate imagination, and heighten a child’s sense of wonder.
Did you know that the average American child spends 1,200 hours a year in front of a screen? Outside play can boost children in every area of development! This book has everything you need to reset the balance and swap screen time for outdoor fun!
The science behind nature’s positive effects on the brain. The powers of the natural world improve health, promote reflection and innovation, and strengthen our relationships. As life continues to shift indoors, these ideas―and the answers they yield―are more urgent than ever.
PLEASE NOTE: As an Amazon Associate, Mothers Truly Matter earns from qualifying purchases. The information in this post should not be construed as providing specific psychiatric, psychological, or medical advice, but rather to offer readers information to better understand the lives and health of themselves and their children. It is not intended to provide an alternative to professional treatment or to replace the services of a physician, psychiatrist, or psychotherapist.