Outdoor Education: The Importance of Getting Kids in Touch with the Natural World
Presented by Scott, Outdoor lover, blogger, adventure seeker at Live Once Live Wild. Who writes about all things wild.
For many children around the world, a typical day begins in front of a screen and ends in front of a screen. The days when childhood fun was synonymous with playing in rivers, climbing trees, and getting lost in the woods is unfortunately becoming a thing of the past. With the rise of technology and the captivating charm of movies, TV shows, video games and the like, many children simply no longer spend much time outside.
While the childhood obesity crisis can be attributed to many different factors, the lack of physical exercise is definitely one of the main causes. In past generations, there was no “problem” with getting children to exercise, since their natural curiosity and energy took them into the natural world to explore and enjoy.
Have children lost their innate awe for the natural world? In this short article our friends from help us explore a few reasons why children have lost their desire to be outside and why it is important for to get kids in touch with the natural world.
The Loss of Awe for the Natural World
Perhaps we all have some sort of childhood memory where the natural world filled our childhood minds with wonder, excitement and awe. Perhaps it was watching a bird build its nest in the branches of a tree above us, or coming a across a group of deer meandering through the woods. Those memories often stick with us into adulthood because they help us understand our belonging to a membership that is larger than our household, our family, and even our species.
With the increased urbanization of our species, the massive growth of urban sprawl, and the expansion of the suburbs, many children find that they simply don´t have any sort of natural world to play in. In inner cities and the suburbs, manicured play grounds and parks offer a cheap substitute for Nature.
Furthermore, while organized sports are important tools to help children get the exercise they need and learn the value of teamwork, sports leagues can be time consuming and often completely replace the time that children would spend in the natural world.
Furthermore, the abundance of screens and technology also contribute to the loss of a child´s connection to the natural world. Even during a vacation to some national park, children might find themselves so immersed in their video games and telephones that they don´t experience the beauty around them. There is definitely an allure to the glowing screens that fill our days, and many experts agree that addiction to technology is becoming one of the most serious problems for children and youth.
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The Benefits of Getting Children into Nature
Being surrounded by Nature provides numerous benefits to a child´s emotional, physical, and overall health and well-being. Some studies have found that the increase of certain conditions such as attention deficit and hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) can be traceable to lack of play time in the natural world.
Obviously, childhood obesity is directly related to a lack of physical activity in the natural world, but other health conditions are also result of children spending too much time indoors. Spending time outdoors and in Nature helps children to improve their self-esteem and their mental wellness.
Furthermore, unstructured play in the natural world leads children to develop and hone their problem-solving skills and self-discipline. A child who has spent hours upon hours trying to figure out how to make a makeshift raft to get from one side of the stream to the next, or how to build a pully system to get supplies up to the top story of their tree house will undoubtedly be more inclined to perform better in school.
Obviously, another benefit of getting children outside is that they can learn of the world around them. Many children can easily recognize the logos and name brands of hundreds of toy companies, fast food restaurants, clothes and shoes providers, and others. But if you put them in the middle of a forest they most likely wouldn’t be able to tell you the difference between a birch tree and a sugar gum tree, or a morel mushroom and any other type of fungi emerging from the forest floor.
Spending time in Nature, especially when we are young, makes the Natural world familiar to us. It expands our sense of belonging to the world around us. Since you can only truly protect what you love and identify with, getting children into Nature at a young age is essential if they are to grow into adults whose livelihoods are angled towards respect and care for Nature.
The Importance of Contact with the Natural World
As adults, we need to let go of our desire to control every aspect of a child’s growth and development. From a psychological standpoint, allowing children to forge their own paths and adventures is an essential aspect of holistic development.
Also, as our society grows increasingly aware of the very serious environmental and ecological crises that our civilization has created, raising children whose experience in the natural world has created a bond of affection with Nature will be a major benefit in the construction of more ecologically sustainable livelihoods.
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Great post, we live in an era of contrasts. So many people are getting out in nature but so many are retreating. I feel like a failure with our son. We did scouts, and hiking, and camping but now he is not interested in any of that. None of his friends are either. He’s almost 19 and he will go on a hike with me just to make me happy. He says he likes it but wouldn’t do it on his own.
Awe, maybe he will have a change of heart when he’s older.
I live in a country where the outdoors and outdoor living is a national passion. Hiking, tramping, skiing, sailing, boating – the opportunities are wide and ever present. Schools integrate outdoor activities with education. In later grades, entire classes go on camps. Children are taught about the national flora and fauna from the early years. I think this imparts respect for the environment and shows in New Zealand’s policies and outdoor spirit.
That would be incredible Rhonda, here in the states students rarely go further than they playground.
I think if you instill it in them young even when they go through that phase during the later teen years where they are not interested, they will in time revert to it as they seek out new experiences
I agree immersing a child in nature at a young age can make a difference.
bettyl - NZ
We have a wonderful world and it would be such a shame if we didn’t teach our children how to respect it. Great post.
Agreed, thanks Betty!
Definitely expose babies and children to the wonderful outdoors, even if it’s the backyard. Being out of touch with nature is being out of touch with yourself.
“Being out of touch with nature is being out of touch with yourself.” So True!