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Why Nature for Children?

The magic sauce combination for body, mind, and heart well-being

Why Naturopathy
Dandelion Fields

Today's children spend far less time outside playing than children in
previous generations.



In fact, studies estimate that the average young child today is outside 35% less than their parent's generation and up to 65% less than their grandparent's generation. And what time they do have outside is less exploratory and more structured by adults. This is concerning because outdoor play, especially child-led outdoor play, has been shown to support and improve a great number of aspects of a young child's development, including their cognitive, physical, and emotional well-being.

The good news is, children are born with a curiosity and connection to nature that is easy to foster.
And the elixir is just outside your back door! If your child can touch green grass below them and see blue sky above them, they are in a space that is ready to support them in health and happiness! 


 

Read on to learn more about the ways that nature play and exploration support a child's well-being

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Greater Focus

Attention is clearly important for learning, but many children have trouble paying attention. For one thing, they are kids! Children's brains are making connections with such frequency, that quick moving thoughts are common and sometimes it can just be hard to concentrate.

But, it's more than that these days. From the instant gratification of increased screen time, to a lack of multi-sensory  play, to a reduction in moderate and intense physical activity, today's children have more difficulty with focus than ever before.

Spending time in nature has been proven to help support and restore attention. Big body movements help children expel energy, and head movements like bending and lifting trigger the vestibular system that encourages a more focused brain. 

 

In addition to the ability of physical movement to help with focus, the "Attention Restoration Theory" argues that time in natural settings induces a type of "soft focus" that rests the brain, preparing it to perform at top levels. You may have heard this type of "top level" forcus referred to as "flow state", and it is the type of attention that is credited for top-level creative breakthroughs and athletic achievement.

A special promise for outdoor experiences is held for children diagnosed with ADHD. Several recent studies of children diagnosed with ADHD have found exhibited improvements in symptoms and behavior after the children completed a regimen of outdoor time.

Enhanced Creativity

The natural world is creativity's muse! When in nature, children are often inspired to think more freely, design their own activities, and approach the world in inventive ways. 

 

One reason for this is the extraordinary variability of outdoor spaces. Because outdoor settings are typically less structured and less predictable than indoor settings (Woah! A bird! Woah, a new flower! Woah! A gust of wind!), outdoor environments allow children to greet novel experiences in novel ways, leading to an increase in creative inspiration.

 

Furthermore, nature is a rich environment for the senses. With weather and temperature fluctuations, unusual sounds and smells, and endless unique surfaces for touching, lifting, and balancing on, nature invites all senses to come on board. Brain science shows us that the more our senses are engaged, the deeper the possibility for learning and the richer the opportunity for flexible and creative output.

With the World Economic Forum recently naming Creative Problem Solving as the #1 job skill of the future, the value of placing children into environments that support creative impulses and divergent thinking is clear.

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Improved Physical Health

The benefits of outdoor time for physical health are huge.

 

Vitamin D from sunlight strengthens bones and bolsters the immune system. 
 

Walking on uneven surfaces and playing with loose parts like rocks and sticks improves core strength and balance.

 

Fresh air helps prevent the spread of viruses.
 

Focusing eyesight on objects near and far helps reduce near-sightedness and eye fatigue caused from screen time.

Vestibular input from bending, hanging, and spinning helps a busy brain settle and improved balance abilities protect children from  injuries.

Lifting heavy objects, climbing, and jumping triggers the proprioceptive system which helps regulate sensory needs and develop physical impulse control.

 

Phew! Talk about a laundry list of benefits! 

Mental Resilience

Want to hear something astounding? The power of nature to effect mental health is so immense that studies have linked listening to prerecorded nature sounds while indoors to reductions in stress and agitation. If such limited indoor "exposure" to nature has this type of measurable impact, just imagine the benefits of time actually spent in nature!

Well, we don't have to imagine these benefits; they have been proven by science. Increased time outside is linked in both children and adults to reduced stress, anxiety, and depression.  The reasons for this in terms of brain-science are fascinating, and vary from the fact that microbes in dirt increase the amount of serotonin (a happy chemical) in the brain to the fact that outdoor environments are both stimulating and calming to the mind, depending on what the individual's brain needs at the time.

Early childhood educators often remark how a restless child often returns from a lengthy recess more relaxed, while a sad or frustrated child returns from a lengthy recess full of excitement and joy. This is the power of extended outdoor play to reset a child's nervous system to a more regulated and pleasurable state.

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But the value of time in nature is so much more than these quantifiable benefits. 

Time in nature is also the wonder of a flower that looks otherworldly. The peace of drifting fog on a morning lake. The almost silent whisper of falling snow that makes it feel like the whole world is letting out a big sigh. The humor in a duck waddle. The mind-boggling intricacies of nature's persistent cycles. Even the ferocious storms and hungry predators that remind us we humans are not all-powerful.

It is the reality that we are part of the natural world. Children are nature. Adults are nature. We have more than 70% of our DNA in common with slugs.  We aren't just surrounded by nature, we are it!

It is also the fervent hope that the more children spend their time with nature, the more they will come to understand it. And the more that they understand it, the more likely it is that they will develop an intimate fondness for it. And the more fond they are of it, the more they will care for it as they age.

Now THAT'S a benefit.

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