Why nature play

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If we want children to flourish,
to become truly empowered,
let us allow them to love the earth
before we ask them to save it.
David Sobel

Responsibility to our children

It’s hard to overstate the benefits of outdoor play for children’s health and well-being. Below are a few of my favorite reasons. I feel strongly that one look at this list should convince most administrators that they need to mandate time in the outdoors for all their students. (It goes without saying that time outdoors raises academic scores, but there are many other important reasons.)

  • Children who play outdoors reduce their chance of becoming near-sighted. (As Thomas Lowe Fleischner says, “Playing outside, in other words, literally helps us see the world more clearly.”)
  • Playing in nature improves gross motor skills, including balance, coordination, and agility. Walking, running and climbing on uneven surfaces (as opposed to the smooth surfaces of a man-made playground or classroom) helps children’s bodies grow and adapt to the terrain.
  • Students diagnosed with ADHD demonstrate fewer symptoms when playing outdoors in an unstructured environment. It helps with attention, focus, and memory.
  • Kids who play outside are less anxious than those who don’t.
  • It also reduces stress, anger and aggression in children.
  • Kids who play outside move more, resulting in healthier bodies and brains.
  • Plus, it’s fun! Kids love to roll down hills, look for bugs, hide behind trees, and build fairy houses. I have never once had a kid say to me “I’m bored” or “What are we doing after this?” when we are playing outside (unless it’s really cold – I live in Wisconsin after all). I really believe playing outdoors is a right that all children deserve, most of all because it’s what they were born to do.

Sources for these stats: 1, 2, 3

Responsibility to the earth

If attentiveness can lead to wonder, and wonder can lead to love, and love can lead to protective action, then maybe being aware of the beautiful complexity of lives on Earth is at least a first step toward saving the great systems our lives depend on.
Kathleen Dean Moore

A variation on this statement, made by one of my all-time favorite authors, underlies the fundamental belief of all environmental educators – if we teach children to love the earth, they’ll be the ones to save it. At risk of sounding too dramatic, the kids we teach today will be the ones that put a stop to climate destruction begun yesterday. Not all our students will become scientists or environmental activists. But if they feel an affinity towards their landscape, or a particular animal, or even a single tree in their front yard, they’ll be more likely to take steps to save these things they love. They will hopefully vote against politicians that support big business, think twice before using that plastic bag, consider biking to work, encourage LEED certification in their office, or start a composting system in their backyard. Where does this love for nature begin? When they are young and open to knowing the world.

If you need more reasons…

There are countless books, articles and research publications that support the importance (indeed the necessity) of both play and outdoor learning for kids. Here are some of my favorites.


Articles & Resources