Children don't play the way they used to and they are suffering for it. Some say, nature, or lack of it, is to blame. There is a growing body of research to support that nature is critical to the development of children in every major way -- intellectually, emotionally, socially, and physically. Take it away -- and there are consequences. Many children's advocates attribute modern mental and physical ailments such as ADHD, low self-esteem, stress and childhood obesity to this nature deficit. Simply put, nature is a fundamental part of the developmental health of children and today's kids aren't getting the access they need to thrive.
So what can we do? Putting natural playgrounds in schools is a step in the right direction. These are outdoor play spaces where children can play with and among natural elements such as sand, water and living plants. In the recent past, children did not need manufactured play spaces because they rode their bikes and walked to school, they played in backyards and in and around the neighborhood. Today, this is not a option for most kids, certainly not kids growing up in urban environments. Children growing up today also spend 50 hours a week in school or daycare. Therefore, we must encourage them to love nature and the outdoors because it is not an organic part of their lives.
Natural Playgrounds help with the nature necessity but they are not enough. Experts believe children need to be surrounded by nature daily in order to reap its benefits. Here are some ideas, pulled from various child development sources, to bring nature into the lives of young children.
• Bring natural materials into the home. Things like pine cones, twigs, dirt and stones. These natural toys have everything educators want in terms of texture, shape and function. Kids can count them, sort them, measure and play make believe with them.
• Create an outdoor play area on a roof, a balcony or a small patio. Fill it in with rocks, plants and accessorize it with buckets of dirt and water. Set up a chair in a corner where kids can sit and read.
• Put a plant outside your stoop and give your kids the responsibility to care for it. This simple project teaches them about the impact they have on their surroundings.
• Schedule weekend excursions to the park, the beach, the lake, the woods and just let them wander and soak in natural stimulation, not the kind that comes from media.
• Take the time to go for a simple walk around the block with your kids. Play eye spy and talk to them about plants, trees, and bugs. Answer their questions. One of the key reasons nature is beneficial to kids is because of the sense of discovery it inspires.