Monday, 1 February 2016

Nature play makes children smarter, calmer, more creative, and less distracted.

Around the world, people are realising how important it is for children to play outside and in nature.  Psychologists, brain scientists and child development experts all agree that children need to get outside and play as often as they can - their research shows it makes them smarter, calmer, more creative and more resilient.  

We spent today playing in the rain at Lake Cootharaba - rock hopping, tree climbing, splashing about, paddling, snorkling, cloud watching and exploring.
I agree with the experts, but I don't really need to see the research to confirm this. I see it everyday as a mother of three active young children. When my children play outside, and particularly in nature, they are happiest. I notice how they are so much calmer and relaxed in themselves, and they are engaged, focussed and positively creative. 

Outside, particularly where there is physical challenge and mental stimulation, they cooperate with one another, help each other and fight far less than when they are confined indoors and 'bored'.  They solve problems, build useful things, and ask intensely interesting questions which I love to explore with with them.

I actually saw my children beginning to switch off by spending too much time indoors. Before they went to school they were full of questions about life and living. But after a few years into school and with their busy schedule of organised classes (even with a lot of outdoor time and living in an ecovillage) these questions nearly stopped. 

 I thought I was doing the right thing as a parent, but I began to sense an underlying sadness and a level of discontent and uneasiness in my 2 school-age children.  It deeply troubled me. So when they each independently asked to be homeschooled I agreed. 

Since then we have been spending so much more time outdoors just playing. Most of their learning is directly connected to their interests, explorations, projects and adventures. When we need to do 'lessons' our classroom is the verandah where we can look across water to a national park and are surrounded by permaculture gardens and wildlife. They fly through their tasks so they can get back to playing. Overall their learning seems more connected, holistic, contextual and meaningful.  

Going outside is the most inexpensive thing you can do for your children's mental and physical health
Studies show that children who play on rocky, uneven, tree-filled areas have better balance and agility.
Stepping back as much as possible to let children explore is so important. Being able to take risks and problem-solve helps build self-esteem. 

"The healthiest, non-sedentary activities are those in unstructured, natural spaces - the ones without carefully painted lines and adults with whistles." 

Richard Louv,  Author of 'Last Child in the Woods'

"Across the industrialised world, children’s freedom to play and get around their neighbourhoods are in long-term decline. Children are in effect reared in captivity, thanks to traffic growth, academic pressures, the lure of screens and ever-growing adult anxieties. It should be no surprise that childhood obesity and adolescent mental health problems are major public health issues."
Tim Gill, Author of ‘No Fear; Growing Up in a Risk Adverse Society’


  1. Oh, I love this post!!!!! I have read Richard Louv's book twice and it makes perfect sense to me. I think too that in our world today, in order to develop a very deep love of and respect for nature, children need to be immersed in it. They won't care for, fight for or protect that which they don't understand and love. Keep on writing!

    1. Meg, I totally agree - it is so important to cultivate this deep connection and the earlier the better I think. We all need to care enough to stand up for nature.

  2. Thank you for this post. I am also a mum of three (2 boys, 1 girl) and my eldest is kindy age. I have just made the difficult decision to postpone my career plans until after they finish school so I can be available to pull them out and school at home if needed. Even as a teacher, I feel the system is too restricting for children, especially young boys. Prep kids, for example, are now expected to sit at desks for most of the day! So I will be home for the next few years now. If they enjoy school, they will not come home to an empty house or a too-busy mother. If school fails them, they will come home to learn here. It does amaze me how difficult it was to decide this though. Mothers 50 years ago wouldn't have thought twice, but now it seems it must be a dual-income home or a life of poverty. Luckily we don't need much to live off since we started living more simply :)

    1. Thanks for writing. It is difficult for young children to sit most of the day. I know it really was such a struggle for my son - he tried for a couple of year, but ended up switching off to be able to conform to that requirement. His natural state is one of constant activity and movement. I am so glad that I made the decision to support him in homeschooling and are in a position to do this - working from home, living simply. I also have struggled over the years with the notion of being 'just a mother' - as if that is not an amazing enough role! I have now come to the balance where the very part-time work I do has to fit around the children being my primary focus. My work evolves with the children and nourishes and engages them too. Best wishes in your schooling adventures in the coming years.

  3. Yes! Love this, Morag. After mentoring young children to learn in, with and from nature in my bush kinder, it feels so liberating to bring my own children home from school this year, and bring them into the Natureweavers program as well. We also have our dedicated learning spaces set up outside, overlooking permaculture gardens and forest, and it does indeed make for a more fruitful - and beautiful - learning environment.