By Jessica Van Antwerp, Owner, Integral Travel
It’s no secret that being outdoors in a natural and unpolluted environment boosts our serotonin levels and improves our mood. A walk through the park or bike ride through the forest can help us recenter ourselves and find peace in our busy lives. But for children, getting enough fresh air and enjoying the freedom of playing outdoors also has a massive impact on their development. Here are three amazing ways that outdoor play can enhance your child’s social, emotional, and physical growth.
It teaches respect, patience, and problem-solving
Exploring nature is great for helping children learn vital social skills. Team-building play exercises, such as building a den from fallen branches or creating a bridge over a stream, help children to understand cause and effect and the value of patience, whilst developing problem-solving and friendship skills.
Discovering wildlife, building homes for bugs, and planting seeds all encourage children to develop love and respect for the world around them, which will help them to become compassionate adults who have the desire to protect our planet.
It builds natural immunity
There are an endless number of fun games and activities to do outdoors, and many children instinctively want to run, climb, jump and get as muddy as possible. Whilst it may make you cringe with the worry to think of them getting hurt or at the thought of washing their filthy clothes, getting stuck in with nature is brilliant for their physical development.
Being exposed to common bacteria in soil, sand, and natural water builds up a natural immunity to everyday microbes. This can help them develop a strong, resilient immune system. Studies have shown that children who are kept too clean and aren’t exposed to nature may develop a hypersensitive immune system, which can make them more likely to develop allergies, eczema, and asthma.
Allowing children the freedom to explore their physical limits also develops resilience, strength, balance, coordination, agility, and stamina. Exerting themselves from a young age even improves bone density, and helps them to understand their own stability, meaning they’ll be less likely to fall over than children who don’t play outdoors. Spending at least two hours a week outside can also reduce your child’s risk of becoming short-sighted.
Toddlers especially need opportunities to push themselves to the limit physically. This helps them to develop a strong proprioceptive sense, which is how we know where our body parts are without looking. It also tells us how much force we need to use to lift, pull or push something.
It aids emotional development
Children who frequently play outside may become more independent and resourceful than children who don’t and have stronger emotional processing skills. By exploring the natural world they feel happier and less stressed, so are often more likely to open up to a caregiver about any worries they’ve been harboring.
Without the pressure of feeling confined and having toys to be possessive over, children tend to be more patient and empathetic with their peers outdoors. By creating games with each other they naturally learn the importance of turn-taking and cooperation, which are all vital skills to build strong relationships in later life. Getting your kids involved in a forest school can be a great place for them to form lifelong friendships.
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