“London has none of those nice things that children may play with without hurting the things or themselves – such as trees and sand and woods and waters… Trees are all different, as you know, and I am sure some tiresome person must have told you that no two blades of grass exactly alike. But in streets, where the blades of grass don’t grow, everything is like everything else.”
from The Five Children and It by E. Nesbit
While I do think many cities have made an effort to be more kid-friendly than London was at the turn of the 20th Century, it is true that playing outside in nature offers opportunities to children not found along a sidewalk. What follows is a list of a few of the advantages just waiting for your child when they head out to explore the grass, sand, woods, or waters.
- Open-ended play develops the imagination- Adults are more likely to let a child play without commentary when they’re outside. They can follow the whims of a story playing out in their minds or attempt to build the impossible, no experience necessary.
- Diverse experiences develop problem-solving- Obstacles, even small ones, give a child a chance to do some problem solving without so much adult advice.
- Gross motor development- Climbing, running, walking backward, skipping… There are so many ways that “outdoors” allows a child to move that “indoors” inhibits.
- Different type of focus outdoors- Studies have shown our brains work differently when we’re outside. For children, they get to experience the special focus found when the wind can touch their cheeks or they can follow a bird song.
- Sunshine leads to sleep- Sunshine seems to trigger natural rhythms in the body so that at day’s end the whole system is ready to wind down.
- Dirt for good germs- A little biodiversity in our personal space helps our immune system more easily recognize friend, foe, or simple nuisance.
- Social skills- Children are likely to need to find ways to share space with other children. Being outside gives a little elbow room to ease tension while also offering new opportunities and methods for compromise.
- Foster independence- The more a child makes choices, even things like whether they will walk or run, play in the sand or go on the swings, the more they have a sense of their autonomy. When they’re outside, where the walls do less defining of behavior, they can exercise their decision muscle more with fewer censures from adults.
- Improve vision- The mother duck in “The Ugly Duckling” said, “Green is good for the eyes.” This bit of fairy tale wisdom seems to actually be true. There is a strong correlation between time spent outside and better vision.
- Exposure to all we can change- Moving leaves, shoveling dirt, building stick forts— all of these are children shaping their environment to suit a purpose, however ephemeral that may be.