Why is outdoor play important for children?
Once upon a time, not so long ago, parents all over Australia used to open their doors and send their kids outside for the day.
They trusted that their kids would come home when they were tired, hungry or when the streetlights came on. And while this practice has changed (in most circumstances), children’s need to connect with nature hasn’t.
The benefits of nature play for children
Why is outdoor play important for children? A 2019 study by Journal of Environmental Psychology concluded, “children who live near nature and spend more time in nature experience more well-being, have better social skills, and hold more environmentally friendly attitudes.”
An unofficial study* conducted in the healthylife offices also found that letting children run free in wide-open spaces was beneficial to parental sanity.
*Not an actual study.*
Nature play ideas
It can be hard to find the time in a busy week to connect with nature, but there are some ways you can make it easier for yourself.
We recommend scheduling time on your kid’s routine chart, going for a ten-minute bushwalk on the way home from school or exploring the nearby scrub after soccer training.
As far as what outdoor activities you should be doing with your kids, there’s no wrong answer. Here’s some ideas to get you started.
Nature play ideas for toddlers
- explore dirt or sand without worrying about getting dirty
- water the plants in the yard
- freeze leaves in ice cubes and watch them melt
- collect rocks or shells
Nature play ideas for preschoolers
- make some mud pies
- draw a list of items found in nature to create a scavenger hunt
- pick and arrange flowers
- start a shell, rock or feather collection
- trace some leaves
Nature play ideas for primary aged kids
- create art with all-natural/found materials
- build a tent with sticks
- create paint with water and rocks
- learn how to (safely) climb a tree
Keeping teens connected to nature
Getting tweens or teens to ‘play’ in nature isn’t as hard as you may think. Surfing, camping, mountain biking, snowboarding and bushwalking are all forms of play. So is taking the dog for a run at the local reserve.
Parents can help teens stay connected to nature by paying attention to the nature activities they enjoy and helping facilitate them.
If nothing else, encouraging your children to spend time in nature is a great way to limit how much screen time they have.
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Reviewed by the healthylife Advisory Board August 2021.