For many of us adults, our fondest childhood memories are the times we spent outdoors. Our time was unstructured, with no boundaries, and plenty of time to create, explore, and take risks. Climbing trees, running around barefoot, throwing pebbles into streams, riding bikes until it was dark…These were foundational experiences from our childhood and important for our mental and physical development.
What about our children today? Do we really understand how important time spent outdoors impacts their overall growth and development? What has changed in the last 30 years?
Recent data shows that kids spend at least two hours in front of screens and on devices each day. These devices are having profound implications for children everywhere. The amount of screen time affects the development of social-emotional and cognitive skills as well as a child’s ability to relate to and communicate with others. Children are often over-scheduled, over-evaluated, and not given enough opportunities to simply think or plan on their own. It is not surprising that many kids have trouble focusing in a classroom all day. Erin Kenny, author of Forest Kindergartens, says “Children cannot bounce off walls if we take away the walls.”
Here at St. Anne’s we are increasingly aware of the myriad of benefits that nature provides us. Once outside, children are encouraged to connect with nature in many ways. They expand their self confidence, become risk takers, learn better problem solving skills, increase physical strength, and foster a sense of teamwork and cooperation in their interactions with each other. Large outdoor spaces provide opportunities for children to use their whole body to explore, plan, and implement their ideas without limitations. Children need sensory input in order to grow into resilient and able-bodied people. They need to climb, jump, run through the woods, pick up sticks, jump in mud puddles, and even fall and get hurt on occasion. These are all natural and necessary experiences that will help develop a healthy sensory system.
Nature and time spent outdoors enrich all aspects of a child’s development. In today’s hectic, fast paced world, it is even more important to take time to immerse children in nature. We are all a part of the same tribe when we are together in the outdoors. Let’s get outside and explore! Let’s go sledding, walk barefoot, roll down grassy hills, jump in mud puddles, and find more time to let our kids be kids!