Whether you’ve read millions of parenting books or you do not have any children, you [intuitively] know how important sensory, motor, and cognitive development is to an child – from an infant all the way through their developmental years. Sensory, motor, and cognitive development pave the way for a child’s future experiences and future levels of awareness. All parents hope their childrens’ sensory, motor, and cognitive skills are well-developed so their offspring can enjoy the benefits of a healthy, intelligent, successful life, right? Yet some of the ways that we allow our children to occupy their time doesn’t correlate with this belief – including the significant amount of time children are spending with technology rather than with the natural, outside world.
This blog post serves as a gut check to parents and caregivers: are you aware of the vastly unique sensory, motor, and cognitive growth that occurs when young children play in and explore the natural world? The technology that has won over many millions of households in the U.S. has inadvertently diminished children’s sensory, motor, and cognitive development. Research has shown that these intellectual, emotional, and physical areas of development could have been strengthened if children were exposed to the natural world rather than to technology at an early age. The benefits of nature – in terms of children’s sensory, emotional, cognitive development – are irreplaceable and insurmountable.
Children with developed senses – as a result of sufficient exposure to nature – are more likely to notice and categorize objects from the natural world, and are thus more likely to attend to other patterns that they encounter later in life. In Laura Sewall’s book Sight and Sensibility, she claims that “it is only through the senses that we experience what it means to be fully human”.
As children in today’s society spend much of their time indoors, in urban areas, or in structured outdoor activities, they are narrowing their senses physiologically and psychologically. Today, more than half of the world’s population lives in urban environments. Traditional ways in which humans have interacted with nature are disappearing along with a substantial amount of biodiversity. When talking about the decline in interactions with nature, the loss of biodiversity may not be your primary concern if you’re a busy parent – but the fact that fewer interactions with nature depletes your children’s opportunity to develop their sensory skills should catch your attention. It just takes a gentle reminder, sometimes, to remember where we came from and why we should interact with the natural world. Technology has frequently replaced interactions with the natural world. This may make lives more convenient and streamline, but we can’t forget the toll its taking on childrens’ sensory, cognitive, and emotional development. Screen time does not have the same benefits of imaginative play in nature. When you were a kid, didn’t you love playing in the woods or exploring fields and ponds with your neighbors? Give your children the opportunity to expand their minds and experiences by encouraging them to explore nature with friends rather than send SnapChats to their friends.
In an urban environment, I understand that it can be difficult to take your child to a field or a mountain. But let me ask you, why is it so difficult to find a natural area for your child to explore? Are these pristine areas located far away? Do you not have the time to visit? Or is it because you cannot afford the gas money to go to these places? If you have the means to get your child to a natural field, stream, or hill to explore, but you would rather not inconvenience yourself with the journey or bore of visiting such places, then you should be aware of the lack of sensory development that will result in your child. If you want the best for your child, don’t take the easy way out. Expand every sensory horizon for your child and watch him or her reap the benefits and joys of such powerful encounters with nature.
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