The Top 5 Developmental Benefits of Nature Play
After running a nature-based early childhood program for the past three years, I find myself so immersed in the world of nature play that I sometimes take for granted just how impactful regular outdoor play is on healthy development.
But on occasions when I find myself spending time with young children who don’t engage in regular outdoor exploration, the differences are striking.
While my students fearlessly climb trees and run sure-footedly down bumpy woodland paths, nature-play-newbies are more cautious and prone to tripping on uneven surfaces. On the rare occasions when my students do fall, they bounce right back up, with no tears or hesitation. In contrast, children who are new to the outdoor environment are far more likely to become upset or seek reassurance from an adult when they trip. Even amongst children of the same age, there are clear differences in the gross motor skills, independence, and confidence levels of those who regularly spend time playing outdoors and those who do not.
My anecdotal observations are supported by Angela Hanscom's book Balanced and Barefoot: How Unrestricted Outdoor Play Makes for Strong, Confident, and Capable Children. Drawing on her cred as a pediatric occupational therapist, Hanscom makes a clear case for both the devastating effects of a lack of outdoor play time and the incredible therapeutic benefits of nature.
The good news is it doesn't take long for children to immerse themselves in nature play and start reaping the full developmental benefits - all we have to do is set the stage for them to do so!