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The Importance of Getting Young Children Out In Nature

By — Nature Deficit Disorder Special Edition Contributor
Updated on Oct 25, 2010

As parents, you are probably as concerned as I am that your children get the very best education possible. We know that childhood can be a challenging time and we want our children to be well prepared for the world in which they live. An important part of providing quality education lies with children’s experiences outside of school. Think back for a moment to your own first memories of childhood from age 3 or 4. What comes to mind? “Go play outside” is what I was told on a daily basis as a child raised on the farm. Those joyful childhood experiences about the world of nature, engulfing all of my five senses on a daily basis between the important ages of 3 to 5, were the foundation for my formal education in school.

Creating Memories for your Child

It is important to provide memories that could be cherished forever by your children. The most important gift you could give your young children is the simplest and least expensive of all. It is the sheer time, opportunity, and joy of being a child exploring the natural world. This time can be spent in your yard, in the park near you, in the container garden on your fifth floor balcony, or on the playground, with no cash expense .

Let Your Child Play

The hurried pace of society is deleting play, especially outdoor play, from the childhood experience. Organized activities, while having their own rightful place in a child’s life, are not the same as free, self-selected, spontaneous play, play that is unorganized and unstructured by an adult.  It is during this unstructured time that children unwind, relax, focus, and refresh. It is during this time that they develop the skills of leadership and conflict resolution. When the brain has a chance to process the day’s information, the child develops habits of the mind, heart, and soul – thinking, creativity, loving, and learning.

How do we restore our children’s connection to nature in what Stephen Kellert (2005) calls a “built environment,” an environment of concrete, stone, and electrical outlets where anything “green” continually gives way to more highways, more housing developments, more strip malls, more high rises, and more condos?  Look into the No Child Left Inside Act recently approved by the U.S. House of Representatives or read the findings of Lowell Monke in Breaking Down the Digital Walls: Learning to Teach in a Post-Modem World (Burniske & Monke, 2001). You may to begin by taking your child outside.

Play in All Kinds of Weather

Don’t let bad weather deter you: go play outside in all types of weather. During all seasons, take a picnic or snack and go outside with it.  Walk and record on a calendar what you and your child notice in nature with every season. Just sit and rock on your porch or in front of your window at various times of any day and listen to the sounds.  

Summer Activities

  • When it is warm and rainy, go play outside wearing no raincoat or hat, or better yet, wearing a swimsuit.
  • Walk in the rain barefoot, splash in the mud puddles, make mud pies and cakes, and feel the rain on your face.
  • If it is raining too heavily, wear raincoats and galoshes and make “splishes and sploshes” through the water and puddles.
  • When there is lightning, if safe, sit quietly on a porch and listen to the thunder, count the time between the lightning and the thunder
  • Help a child learn what it means when we say it smells like rain.

Autumn Activities

  • During the fall, let your child help rake the leaves and then take time to jump in them. Compare the leaf sizes and shapes and colors.
  • Make a leaf picture when you go indoors.
  • Count how many different colors you see outside.
  • Sit and watch the squirrels playing and storing the nuts for the winter.
  • Stretch your arms around a tree and feel the bark.
  • Turn over a rock or branch and watch for hiding insects.

Winter Activities

  • When it is snowing, walk outside and catch snowflakes.
  • Lie down so you can make angles in the snow.
  • Build a snowman.
  • Make a birdfeeder and place it near a window so your child can watch the birds eat.
  • Take a walk in the snow and compare your footprints and the footprints of other animals.
  • Smell the crisp air.

Spring Activities

  • Go play outside! 

References

Burniske, R. W. &  Monke, L. (2001).  Breaking Down the Digital Walls: Learning to Teach in a Post-Modem World (Suny Series, Education and Culture).  New York: State University of New York Press.

Kellert, S. R. (2005).  Building for Life: Understanding and Designing the Human Nature. Connection, Washington, DC: Island Press.  “House Approves No Child Left Inside Act”. (September 18, 2008).  From the Children and Nature Network at http://www.childrenandnature.org/news/detail/house_approves_no_child_left_inside_act/

Montessori, M. (1988). The Discovery of the Child. Santa Barbara: ABC-CLIO Ltd.

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