40 Astounding Benefits of Outdoor Nature Play for Kids by Angela Pruess

Inside: Time kids spend outdoors in nature play has been steadily declining for decades and it’s costing them enormously when it comes to their physical and mental health. 

I feel my shoulders relax.

My lungs open up and I breathe.

I just feel… lighter.

And all I have done is to simply step out my own front door.

nature play

THIS is the power of being in nature. After only a brief few moments in nature, I can literally feel the onslaught of positive changes in my mind and body.

There is something incredibly powerful that nature and nature only is capable of doing to our minds and bodies. Since the beginning of time, humans have been closely connected to the natural environment.

We lived off the land and often used natural spaces as a natural extension of our homes. Many cultures remain close to the natural world and as a result, reap profound benefits to both their physical and psychological health.

In our Western modern culture, however, our kids are growing evermore disconnected from their natural environment and researchers have gone far enough to call this phenomenon ‘Nature deficit disorder’.

Studies show that while screentime and indoor time have increased for children, time spent outdoors in nature play has dramatically decreased.

The proof of nature play is in the research

It’s been hard to say exactly what the direct impacts of decreased green time on children were, but we now have the first epidemiological studies that show an association between less contact with the natural world in childhood and worse mental health in adulthood.

“Collecting data from nearly 3,600 individuals in four different European countries, researchers at the Barcelona Institute for Global Health have found that these childhood experiences are associated with feelings of nervousness and depression in adulthood.

kids and nature

“The results show that participants who scored lower on the mental health tests also had less exposure to nature in childhood, and this was true regardless of how much time they spent in nature as adults. What’s more, these participants didn’t seem to place as much significance on natural spaces in general.” (International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health)

This is just one of several studies now showing causation between more time spent playing in nature during childhood and mental health in adulthood.

Another recent study found that children who grow up in natural surroundings have up to a 55 percent lower risk of developing a mental disorder as an adult.

The studies author Kristine Engemann reported further that “the protective effect grows stronger with more years spent living near nature. We found that association was stronger when we calculated a cumulative measure of green space from birth to age 10 compared to measuring green space at one single year, this indicates that the positive association builds up over time and that being exposed to green space throughout childhood is important.” (Study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences)

The positive effects of nature play for children go far beyond psychological. Nature has been proven important to children’s development in every major way—intellectually, emotionally, socially, spiritually and physically (Kellert, 2005).

40 amazing benefits of nature play for kids. 

Mental and Emotional Health

  • Improves cognition and thinking
  • Increases focus
  • bolsters resilience against stress
  • Increases mood
  • Decreases anxiety
  • Builds confidence
  • Provides regulation sensory input for the nervous system
  • Builds mindfulness skills
  • Improves short term memory
  • Decreases anger
  • Reduces ADHD symptoms
  • Boosts confidence
  • Improved self-regulation skills
children and nature play

Physical health

  • Lower blood pressure
  • Decreased rates of obesity
  • Provides sensory stimuli
  • Increases energy levels
  • Increases vitamin D levels
  • Reduced risk of bone disease
  • Reduced risk of heart disease
  • Improves nutrition
  • Improves eyesight
  • Improves balance
  • Improves range of movement
  • Promotes muscle development
  • strengthens immune system
kids in nature and mental health

Character development

  • Higher levels of creativity
  • Increases appreciation and regard for the environment
  • Builds imagination
  • Teaches responsibility
  • Creates opportunities for awe and wonder
  • Encourages healthy risk-taking
  • Promotes experimentation
  • Develops critical thinking skills
  • Improves social skills
  • Improves self-discipline
  • Develops empathy
  • Promotes a deeper understanding of the world
  • Increase life satisfaction
  • Increases levels of kindness
nature play for kids

Every child desperately needs nature play

There’s no denying we have some work to do when it comes to getting our kids outside. For both their mental and physical health and well-being, we now know for a fact that getting back to our nature roots plays a powerful role in combating mental health conditions and serves as an enormous protective factor for our children.

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