With the weather getting better and evenings getting longer, it may just be that time of year to start reintroducing children to nature and the outside world. It seems like it has been a long, long, long winter this year but it is now finally (hopefully) coming to an end!
With Earth Day having just been (22nd of April 2023), now is a good time to look to the outside and see what an amazing natural world we have for children in our community to enjoy.
Why is nature so important?
It may seem an obvious question but there is so much that nature offers us that we might not necessarily think about.
Not only do the trees around the world literally provide the oxygen we breathe, it can offer something for most living creatures and especially ourselves.
It is interesting to look at. Admittedly, it isn’t for everyone but there are some amazing natural phenomena can be truly inspiring. For example, the Aroura Borealis (Northern Lights) or the mass migration of birds in and out of the UK. Even witnessing one of these huge events can lead to a lifetime of fascination or inspiration for adults, just think what it could do for children.
Improves your mood. It has been found that spending time in nature and away from screens and electronics whilst being outside for just two hours a week can improve your mental health and mood. During a study, those who reported spending two hours or more outside a week were more likely to say they were in good health and improved mental wellbeing.
Home to animals and insects. Yes, the thought of lifting a leaf and finding a creepy crawly underneath it may put some of you off but; each animal and creature plays a hugely vital role in balancing the world’s ecosystem. That’s everything from the food we grow to eat to the pollination of plants. Nature, being the home of animals and insects, also is a great place to explore and learn things with your children.
Improves physical health. We are not just talking about inspiring places to go walking or jogging which can help to improve both your mental and physical health but we are also talking about how nature can help to reduce the potential in getting heart disease. It has been found that spending time, as mentioned above, can help to reduce stress and therefore help to reduce the risk of heart disease.
Air purification and cleaning. Along with the inspiration and the fascination, nature can give us some tangible benefits as well. Species of sea-grass and trees help to cleanse the air we breathe and reduce carbon levels that are produced by us humans. Without these species, though it is not great in some parts of the UK as it stands, air quality would be a lot worst and we would all be gasping for clean air.
Am I getting enough time in nature?
Unless you are literally living in a field, there is no such thing as ‘too much nature’, unless you are unfortunate enough to get caught up in a natural disaster or something equally as terrifying.
Spending enough time in nature is dependent on each person. One person could spend ten minutes in the greenery and feel on top of the world, whereas another person could spend hours in nature and still feel low.
If you want an actual figure though, then it is 120 minutes a week. Two hours a week in nature are what you need according to scientists to feel the benefits of it and to feel in a better mood, less stressed and better about yourself. Increasing numbers of people though are reporting that they are feeling out of touch with nature and wouldn’t be able to teach their children about it, so spending two hours or more with nature may be a good idea before too long to make sure that you and your children can still reap the benefits.
Spending time in nature could be as simple as sitting on a bench in a green area and watching the world go by. Or, you could try and take on nature and doing something extreme life white water rafting or cliff-climbing. Whatever you do outside and for however long you want it to be for will be sure to help.
How do I get my children interested in nature?
It is easy now for children in the modern world to access entertainment at their fingertips so it may be difficult to get them interested straight away into putting down the phone or tablet and getting outside.
Fortunately, a lot of wildlife organisations have made child-friendly apps and programmes that could inspire them to go and see it in person.
Series like Wild Isles on BBC have proved to be a great inspiration for many to go and see the natural wonder of the UK. That, and because David Attenborough is a national treasure and pretty much anything he narrates is brilliant! This series will give you and your family a new look into what the UK has to offer.
If your child is reluctant to leave their phone anywhere but you want them to see nature, there could be a compromise that actually helps you and your children become nature experts in no time. Nature apps. These great apps can help you identify animals, animal prints, birds, plants and so much more. It is a great way to use tech to get back in touch with nature.
Become a nature expert yourself. Children imitate adults, so it is possible that if you show a keen interest in the outside world, then hopefully; so, will your children. The hope is that with setting a good example, children will want to join in and be part of something that you are doing.
A lot of people love just walking in nature but if your children find that boring, why not try playing games outside at the same time? There are thousands of games in existence or make up a new one with your children. You can take different games with you depending on where you are visiting and what you are likely to see.
Why is nature important to children?
Not only will getting outside and into nature help to inspire your children, it also actually has a lot of physical and mental health benefits.
It can teach responsibility. Caring for nature is an important lesson for everyone and especially children. If you can show your children at an early age that everything has a consequence, for example pulling out flowers from the ground will kill it, it may help to install some social and communal responsibility. It can also teach children that looking after nature it vital and is everyone’s responsibility.
It is a good chance to exercise. Most of the time, if you are interacting with nature, you are not sat on a sofa. This is of course great, even just going for a walk can help to get their blood pumping and help to improve their mental and physical health.
It can inspire and provide real stimulation. Yes, a violent video game could definitely provide entertainment and some stimulation, but going outside can activate so many more senses. The new smells, sights and feelings could be just the stimulation that your children need and potentially, already want.
It can help to reduce stress and fatigue. From research from the Attention Restoration Theory, urban environments require directed attention from an individual which causes us to ignore distractions which can lead to an exhausted brain. In natural environments, we don’t require directed attention but use a more effortless type of attention called ‘soft fascination’. This creates feelings of pleasure and not fatigue.
Nature can build confidence. Indoor play can be very structured whereas outdoor play can be a lot freer. As there are so many ways of interacting with nature, it can be left to your children to take control of what they want to do which will help to improve their decision making and therefore, their confidence.
Indoor play is great and a lot easier, but in some circumstances, it can offer so much less than being outside with nature and experiencing hands on play and events.
What is being done to address the widening connection between children and nature?
For those who are worried about theirs and their children’s connection with nature, there is fortunately plenty of groups and organisations that are providing opportunities to reconnect with nature.
Children’s charities are providing funding, activity days, residentials and experience sessions for children all around the UK to ensure that they can have the opportunities to see nature like so many others their own age.
Schools are also making conscious efforts to provide new experiences for children with a mixture of experience days and workshops that can give children a hand on experience with the natural world instead of just reading about it or looking at it on a screen.
The National Trust has got a list of their best gardens and parks for children in an effort to make it easier for families to explore nature, wherever you are in the UK. The National Trust gardens and parks also give a chance to learn about nature with their experts and information points.
There are lots of reasons why and how you can get you and your children involved with nature and the outdoors and now summer is only just around the corner, there has never been a better time to get involved with it.