The amount of time children spend playing outdoors has declined dramatically and there’s a huge rise in indoor play and screen time. To put it mildly, this has detrimental effects on their health and development.
We are privileged to live on a farm and be surrounded by a lot of natural beauty. We prefer to spend most of our time playing outdoors and it’s something that we value. One of Lukhanyo’s first words was ‘outside’. From the time that he was a newborn, I would sit outside with him under the trees and he would happily lie there just watching the leaves, light and clouds. This was the beginning of fostering a love for nature.
Nature play has less structure and gives children more freedom than most types of indoor play. There are many amazing benefits of free nature play and I’m going to share a few of the most obvious with you to encourage you to spend more time playing in nature.
I had to start with this benefit because more sleep is the number one desire of most parents. The consistent exposure to natural light paired with lots of physical activity helps to regulate sleep patterns. This helps to improve the overall quality of sleep. Spending time outdoors and being active also creates soothing endorphins which can help with the production of melatonin (sleep hormone).
Free outdoor play provides more opportunity for movement and being active. Children are free to walk, run, climb and navigate different terrains such as rocks and hills which helps to improve balance and fitness levels. The movement helps to decrease the likelihood of developing obesity and diseases associated with inactivity. It also aids in the development of gross and fine motor skills.
Children who spend time in nature are more active and less prone to stress, anxiety and depression. Time in nature has been proven to increase their levels of cortisol (stress hormone) and increase their levels of serotonin (happy hormone). We never have any emotional meltdowns when playing outside. There is lots of chatter and laughter.
Free outdoor play helps nurture creativity by giving children space to come up with their own games without the use of many toys. It’s amazing how something ordinary like a stick can be used as a magical wand, then as spoon to mix imaginary soup and then used for air drumming. There are so many possibilities in nature. Lukhanyo has an incredible ability to come up with detailed imaginary stories which I attribute to spending most of his time playing in nature.
Helps develop care for the natural world
Children who grow up spending time in nature have a deeper love and appreciation for nature. This helps to create a sense of ownership of the environment thus increasing the tendency for children to care for the environment and want to protect it. When we go for walks on the farm, we always carry something which we can use to collect litter. As a result, Lukhanyo is quite passionate about keeping our environment clean.
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