Nurtured by nature: Children need more time in nature

Child learning about nature with butterfly

KILT's Eco Clubs reduce stress, improve mental health and help children re-connect to the real world

When we think back to our own childhood, chances are we can recall a happy memory that involved some element of nature: rolling down grassy embankments, building tree forts, blowing seeds off a dandelion or skimming stones. However today, as children live more urbanised lifestyles they are losing daily contact with nature. And converging evidence strongly suggests that this nature-deficit is taking its toll on our kids brains and bodies.

While we weren’t looking, childhood moved indoors. Today kids are swathed in digital culture, sedentary behaviours, and over-scheduling which is valued over free-play and getting outside. This collective migration inside has greatly impacted the wellness of our kids. And while they may prefer to stick to their screens, here’s why getting into the great outdoors matters.

The looming lack of nature in today’s hyper-connected culture is leading to troubling childhood trends, including the rise of depression.

Children’s mental health levels surge within minutes of witnessing wildlife. And while there may be increased focus on creating more green spaces and blue spaces in cities, many families lack the seemingly basic opportunity to spend time outside. Some parents feel compelled to keep their children indoors because of crime, while others don’t have transport or work long hours that don’t allow for this kind access to nature. It is up to schools, communities and organizations like ours, to bring nature closer to children. Equitable access to nature is fundamental to our humanity as well as to our children’s wellbeing now and in the future.

In response to this KILT recognized the powerful potential of school vegetable gardens. Through these we developed Eco Clubs, which teach children about nature and food growing. These clubs have become widely celebrated as spaces that boost academic learning, teach healthier eating habits, encourage personal development and environmental stewardship by connecting children with their food, friends and most importantly: Mother Nature.

Children who develop a closer connection with nature learn through their senses by tasting, touching, and seeing nature in ways they could not learn from a textbook.

According to Frontiers In Psychology, just one day a week of learning in a natural setting shows healthier levels of the stress hormone cortisol. In this study anxiety levels dramatically decreased over the course of the school day. Play protects children’s emotional development, proof that we need to take nature seriously, not only as a resource for learning but one that quite literally makes children happier.

Kids are worn out, tuned out, and stressed out because they’re lacking something essential to their health and development: connection to the real world. Studies by the University of Michigan’s Survey Research Center state that children have lost 25 percent of playtime and 50 percent of unstructured outdoor activity over recent decades.

Nature has a way of comforting children. According to The Daily Record exposure to nature can reduce stress levels in children by an astounding 28 percent and as little as a 20-minute walk in nature can help kids with attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder, or ADHD concentrate better. In fact, time spent in nature may be making children kinder by improving social bonding, reducing feelings of anger and triggering the release of ‘happy hormones’.

We know that play increases fitness levels and builds healthy bodies, reducing the risk of childhood obesity while also increasing levels of vitamin D. This helps protect growing bodies from future bone problems, heart disease and diabetes.

Did you know being in a multi-dimensional environment, like a garden, improves distance vision and lowers the chance of nearsightedness?

More than ever kids need nature. When a child has structured self-led free time in nature, they get a chance to set free their imaginations. And we may just be amazed what they come up with. When we let our kids play in dirt, we’re not only allowing them to explore the wonders around them, we are also exposing them to healthy bacteria, parasites, and viruses that ultimately create stronger immune systems. A play in the park is a profusion of prosperity.

The great outdoors is a natural playground, a balm for busy brains and hurried-lifestyles. And quite possibly one of the best classrooms in the world: Mother Nature.

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