The wonderful benefits nature has for children

With tighter lockdown rules in place due to Covid-19, there’s even more reason to ditch arcades and let your child spend more time outdoors.

 Recent studies have exposed the many benefit of children spending time outdoors.

Did you know that being surrounded by nature is highly beneficial for your child’s wellbeing?

Studies have shown that playing among nature has many benefits for your child’s health including helping develop complex thinking skills, social skills, and creativity.

What is nature play?

In recent years, nature play has become more popular with schools and childcare centres, with many of them re-developing play spaces to incorporate natural elements, such as trees, plants, and rocks.

“Nature play is all about playing freely with and in nature. It’s about making mud pies, creating stick forts, having an outdoor adventure, and getting dirty,” says Kylie Dankiw, UniSA masters student. “These are all things that children love to do, but unfortunately, as society has become more sedentary, risk-averse, and time-poor, fewer children are having these opportunities.”

What research suggests

Researchers from the University of South Australia looked at how nature play impacts the health and development of children aged two to 12 years old. They found that nature play improved children’s complex thinking skills, social skills, and creativity.

For the study, researchers reviewed 2927 peer-reviewed articles and consolidated 16 studies that involved unstructured, free play in nature (forest, green spaces, outdoors, gardens) and included natural elements (highly vegetated, rocks, mud, sand, gardens, forests, ponds, and water) to determine the impact of nature play on children’s health and development.

“Our research is the first to rigorously, transparently, and systematically review the body of work on nature play and show the impact it has on children’s development. We’re pleased to say that the findings indicate a positive connection between nature play and children’s development,” adds Dankiw.

How nature play improved children’s health

The study found that nature play improved children’s levels of physical activity, health-related fitness, motor skills, learning, and social and emotional development.

“By playing in nature, children can build their physical capabilities – their balance, fitness, and strength. And, as they play with others, they learn valuable negotiation skills, concepts of sharing and friendships, which may contribute to healthy emotional and social resilience,” says Dankiw.

It also showed that nature play may deliver improvements in cognitive and learning outcomes, including children’s levels of attention and concentration, punctuality, settling in class (even after play), constructive play, social play, as well as imaginative and functional play.