Are you familiar with the evolutionary and biological benefits of children playing in the natural world? Play affects children’s cognitive and emotional development as it allows them to stimulate real life events through their imagination, better preparing them for the adult world. Play helps children understand the interconnections among our ecosystems and the importance of respecting all people and all elements of the natural world. Direct encounters with nature facilitate creativity, personal autonomy and provide opportunities for discovery. Many children today, however, do not experience nature directly; rather, many children in the western world experience edited, exotic nature via media outlets. Technology has allowed for new ways to “experience” without leaving the comfort of one’s couch. Family traditions of going outside to have a picnic in the park or hike a mountain on the weekend have slowly vanished in the western world and are being replaced with new forms of recreational activity, social networks and community relationships. For example, these social changes have led to an increase in organized outdoor programs. While these new trends are “active”, they exacerbate the distanced relationships between children and the natural world as organized outdoor programs cannot adequately account for direct exposure to and play in nature. I encourage you to do your own research on the essential, irreplaceable role of play in nature in children’s healthy development.
When you were a child, did you have a “special place” in nature that you loved to visit and play in? Tree forts or other special places in the natural world foster self-development and maturation. Is your child curious about the natural world? Foster play time in the natural world and watch your child’s imagination soar! It is extremely important for children to have adult role models that encourage play outdoors and support enthusiasm for the natural world.