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Why time in nature is so important for our kids
We all know how we feel after we’ve spent the day indoors, at our desk, under artificial lights, staring at a computer screen. Headachy, cranky and stiff and sore. Do we want that for our kids? We want our kids to embrace any opportunity to get outdoors – and the scientific research backs it up. There’s a growing body of evidence that points to the benefits of getting outdoors, so why not embrace it and make it a natural part of our kids’ lives?
Looking back with my rose-coloured glasses, I was playing with the neighbourhood kids outside till the streetlights came on. We didn’t have a huge range of organised activities as a Gen X kid. It was safe, and it was normal just to be outside, just making our own fun.
Now it’s different, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing, we just need to allocate time to outdoor activities like we do everything else. There’s always a way to squish something into your day, even if it’s parking the car a block away from school and doing a nature walk on the way home. To truly care for the planet, we need to connect with it. Really connect with it.
Experts that include child psychologists, occupational therapists and behaviour experts all agree that getting outdoors has great benefits for children’s wellbeing and health.
According to occupational therapist Bec Hudson, who starts every session the same way, by asking: “Do you want to go outside and sit by the creek?”
The answer is always yes and she says she sees a visual difference in their behaviour and demeanor when they settle down in nature.
There’s a reason there’s a term about something being ‘grounding’ – a connection with the outdoors is a visible reminder to stop, settle and breathe – something we could all do with.
No matter where you live there’s a suitable outdoor area that you can spend time in – so make it a challenge to find the best! For example I live pretty much in the city in Newcastle and within 5km of my house there are extraordinary mangroves, beaches, a harbour and bushland. We’re so lucky in this country that, generally speaking, we can hop on a bike, a train, a car or a bus and go somewhere extraordinary.
But what is extraordinary? Sometimes a vacant block nearby can be an absolute gold-mine of super-cool outdoor things for kids. There can be whole ecosystems of bugs that you can get down low and view, or just lie on your back and watch the clouds roll by – an ever-changing diorama that is avid competition for your most vivid video game.
If you have a window you can plant a pot with a teeny sensory garden filled with things you can see, touch and smell – that’ll attract bees, butterflies and other critters. You can plan day trips, holidays, and just everyday adventures to get out and explore. Ask your kids what they want to see and where!
Kids will do just about anything with enthusiasm if it’s their idea. Let them make all the decisions (it can be hard, but you can give them general boundaries like, ‘llet’s go for a bushwalk today, where do you want to go and what do you want to see? How long should we walk for? What snacks should we pack?”
As adults we tend to overcomplicate things. Kids love simplicity. Go outside, take your shoes off and wiggle your toes in the grass, feel the connection with the earth. What can you see? What can you smell? What can you hear? How do you feel?
Don’t overthink it, but try to make outdoors your go-to every time you’re planning an activity. Have an outdoor dinner in the yard or the park once a month. Check on the progress of the lunar cycle. Spot some constellations.
You don’t need ‘special clothing’ but you do need suitable outdoor wear. Get them used to protecting their skin with a hat and wearing shoes that’ll take them anywhere (just a good pair of trainers).
Our kids probably won’t share our passions, but we should delight in and encourage theirs. If they develop an interest, do what you can to support it. It’s not about money – it’s about joy!
Lisa Drummond is a science journalist and the author of Australian Geographic book How to Raise Outdoor Kids
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