All of us can benefit from more time in the great outdoors, no matter our age. Nature plays an important role in alleviating stress, anxiety and depression, and supporting our physical and emotional wellbeing. For children, getting plenty of time outdoors is particularly important. The opportunity to exercise, learn and play outside can help your child's development. Here are three key ways in which the great outdoors can help your child to thrive.
1. Time outdoors encourages breaks from screen time
When so much of daily life is wrapped up in phones, laptops and tablets, it can be difficult to convince our kids to tear themselves away from screens and focus on the world around them. Although screen time offers many benefits, such as supporting education and enhancing creative pursuits, it can also pose risks.
Excessive screen time can impact our sleep cycles and contribute to insomnia. It can lead to kids being exposed to upsetting or age-inappropriate content. There's also research to suggest that reliance on search engines for answers and digital devices for reminders is impacting our ability to commit information to memory.
When you spend time outdoors with kids, they have the opportunity to take a break from their screens in a new environment, where they're less likely to be reaching for their phone or tablet out of habit. Plus, the lack of WiFi outdoors can put a stop to screen use in an instant. It's also a good opportunity for parents to take a break from their screens and set a good example to the kids, because adults are certainly not immune to phone addiction.
2. Outdoor learning and play can improve social skills
It's becoming common for schools to incorporate outdoor learning into their delivery of lessons. One of the many benefits of outdoor learning is improved socialising, with 93% of schools believing that outdoor education has helped children to develop their ability to connect with others. Outdoor learning and play gives kids the chance to explore and burn off energy, which can help them feel more confident. Increased confidence can translate into easier communication with others.
Look out for organised outdoor activities, such as a tour with a forest ranger or an outdoor arts and crafts event. These give kids the opportunity to meet new people and play with other children their age. With trees, leaves, soil, grass, plants and bugs to investigate, kids have common ground to help them connect with their peers with ease. This can be particularly useful for children who are shy and tend to feel nervous when socialising with new people.
3. Getting active outdoors supports motor skill development
From the day they're born, children are continuously developing their motor skills as their muscles strengthen. It's really important that children are encouraged to use and practice their motor skills by engaging in a wide variety of activities. When it comes to outdoor play, kids can practice running, jumping, balancing and coordination as they explore forest trails, climb rocks or logs, or use climbing frames and swings in play areas. They can also practice fine motor skills which involve small, precise movements when they do things like picking up leaves, collecting shells, gathering firewood or gardening.
As children develop their motor skills, the world opens up to them. The more they're physically capable of, the more accessible their environment becomes to them which allows them to access further opportunities to learn. Research has proven that the development of motor skills instigates further development in children in areas far removed from motor behaviour. Emotional regulation, language and communication skills and perception and cognition all grow as motor skills grow. That's why it's so important to get kids active and in control of their bodies.
Make outdoor time a priority
Life can get busy for working families but it's clear that time outdoors is incredibly valuable to child development, so make it a priority when scheduling family activities. Go out for walks in a variety of environments, look out for events in local forests, parks or nature reserves, or simply get gardening in your own back yard to show kids the value of the great outdoors.