Interested in increasing your child’s connection with nature? We highlight some of the key benefits associated with exposure and connection to nature and provide some core elements of naturalised play environments to help your child to benefit from a stronger link with the natural world.
Previous reports have indicated that children’s contact with, experience of and subsequent appreciation for the natural world has been in decline. However, you only need to take a glimpse at social media feeds and brand marketing to see that a change may well be underway!
A glance at Instagram reveals a trend towards seeing children and families in beautifully stunning natural or outdoor environments such as ancient woodlands, bluebell woods, lavender fields, pumpkin patches and rugged coastal settings. The consumerist world of childhood and families is also changing- noticeably being flooded with wooden toys and accessories, natural fabrics, woodland play, and foliage and animals galore. So, if these changes reflect real changes in children’s exposure and connection to nature, what benefits might our children reap as a result?
The benefits of nature
Exposure to nature has been associated with a huge range of benefits. Research has suggested that being exposed to nature is associated with an increase in positive emotion and a (slightly smaller) decrease in negative emotion and is associated with the replenishment of directed attention. Purposefully paying attention to nature within your surroundings has also been linked to feeling elevated and feeling more connected to nature, others and life in general. This is independent of your tendency to appreciate the beauty that you see around you or your general feelings of being connected to nature… or lack of them.
When it comes to children specifically the benefits are numerous and varied and include:
- Developing an affinity to and a love of nature and a positive environmental attitude/ethic.
- Increased concentration and self-discipline
- More advanced gross motor skills
- Increased buffering against stress
- Less anti-social behaviour
- A sense of peace and being at one with the world
- Development of imagination and the sense of wonder (also associated with life long learning)
- Increased social interaction and more positive feelings about others
- Development of independence and autonomy
- Better cognitive functioning and creativity
Outdoor and woodland learning initiatives, such as Forest Schools and the Natural Learning Initiative, highlight the benefits and value of children’s interactions with nature. Such initiatives might also suggest that early years educational and home environments can be designed to maximise the experience of and connection with the natural world. Such initiatives suggest that there are some basic components that need to incorporated into a naturalised play environment.
How to facilitate your child's connection with nature
To help your child to foster a connection with the natural world try to design their home and play environments and activities to include some or all of the following:
- Water and water play (although be sure to keep it safe!)
- Native vegetation (and lots of it)
- Animals- think butterflies, bees and wondrous creepy crawlies
- Sand- and water to mix with it (alternatively try a mud kitchen!)
- Varied natural sensory experience and diversity
- Opportunities to experience aspects of the changing seasons
- Natural cubby holes and other screened areas
- Natural materials to sit in, on, under, lean against, and climb
- Opportunities to change aspects of the setting/environment/equipment
Have fun! 🙂