Children are instinctively drawn to nature and natural spaces and need time outside away from technology to thrive.
Today’s world is full of distractions, especially for children. Gadgets, gizmo’s screaming sounds and busy screens are all vying for their attention and it is all to easy to give in, and many parents do resulting in kids who are very technology dependent. And a new term has been coined to describe this; it’s called Nature Deficit Disorder.
Using the US as a barometer, children spend a maximum of 7 minutes a day outside and an average of 7 hours a day in front of a screen. There are numerous studies which have revealed the irrefutable benefit of spending time outdoors for both adults and kids, yet with all this knowledge we are spending more time than ever in front of a screen. These studies also show that kids who spend time outside are happier, better adjusted and more attentive, but what is it that outdoor play gives children?
Stimulates the senses
When engaged in outdoor play children will have their senses switched on. Sight, hearing, touch and smell will all be engaged without them even knowing it. Feeling handfuls of warm wet soil, smelling grass and flowers, hearing birds and the wind rush through the trees and seeing all the colours of nature dance before your eyes. Video game and screens certainly stimulate the senses but in a different way which is mostly one-dimensional and elicits a physical stress response in the body such as raised blood pressure, muscle contractions resulting in over-stimulation.
The outdoor world has no keyboard, or Facebook profile. Children are forced to create the fun for themselves, and this creativity is highly beneficial. Their imaginations are fired up as they come up with ways to build, explore, try and learn as they engage in free play. And free play is where the real-world learning happens as kids encounter obstacles and have to find ways to solve problems with no help or manual.
Attention from all angles
Have you ever noticed how kids’ video games, cartoons and TV programs are awash with colour and a cacophony of sounds? It’s hard to know where to look when everything in asking for your attention and your brain becomes over-stimulated and saturated with meaningless information. We adults may be able to block out and edit sounds and visuals as we wish or choose to focus our attention as we please but in the developing brain of a child this is a huge challenge. Outdoor play encourages focused attention as children are forced to find the fun themselves; it does not happen with the flick of a switch and the push of a button. They’re not hooked in like zombies but rather focused in fascination or the pursuit of solving a problem.
Negative over-stimulation does not happen in nature; there are only benefits when it comes to outdoor play. Even eating soil has been shown to benefit kids through the transfer of vital immunity-building microbes. By encouraging outdoor play, we are helping our children develop into healthier, happier and physically stronger adults.