I get the question all the time:
"What do you do?"
"I'm an outdoor educator!! I take children outside and teach them about the world around them... I create resources to help families everywhere get outdoors! "
This is often met with curiosity. Many wonderful folk still don't know what it is us outdoor educators do or more importantly WHY we do what we do!
Most children don't have to be told that nature is good for them - they inherently want to play in the great outdoors!
I know this is not always the case in the growing age of technology, but as a whole, most children under the age of 5 don't know that they should be outside, but rather that they want to be outside.
Still, lucky for us, we have a growing body of research that supports all the things we've always known (but us adults sometimes forget): nature is good for us! We are at our best when we spend time regularly outdoors.
Here's what the research says:
1. it's good for your child's brain
Children who enjoy free play in nature daily score higher on tests measuring concentration and self-discipline; score higher on overall cognition assessments; and have improved reasoning capabilities in comparison to their peers.
In fact, children who experience ADHD noticed a marked reduction in symptoms after spending time outdoors, or even sitting by a window with a view of the outdoors!
Studies show us that children who experience the outdoors as a part of their normal school day learning (not just recess) score better on standardized tests in almost every subject.
Children who experience outdoor play with more natural elements and structures appear calmer and exhibit better listening to their teachers than children who attend schools with less natural elements present outdoors (think blacktop vs. natural hills, boulders, and jumping logs).
2. it promotes life-long passion and learning
Research tells us that those among us who spent time often in nature as children are more likely to be conservation-minded, take actions to care for and protect the earth, continue to spend personal time outdoors as an adult, and have a lifelong love for nature.
This means we can literally be a force for protecting nature just by letting our kids play in it!
Children with greater exposure to the natural world develop greater reasoning capabilities, heightened self-awareness, and observation skills than their counterparts in addition to exhibiting more independence, exercising autonomy, and practicing creative problem-solving strategies. These are crucial life skills developed in their youth that they can carry with them for a lifetime!
Children who spend time in the outdoors exhibit greater resistance to stress and adversity, and preliminary studies support the theory that this is true of adults as well! This means raising nature-lovers is a way of raising strong men and women who will practice meaningful self-care outdoors for life!
Early experiences in the outdoors have been positively linked with the development of imagination and a sense of wonder. Wonder has been found to be a significant motivator for life-long learning and inquiry!
3. it will keep them healthy
Children who play in the outdoors develop more advanced motor skills, demonstrate better agility, balance, and coordination than their peers who spend more time indoors. They are even sick less often with less missed school days and fewer doctor visits!
In addition to demonstrated skills, children who play outside partake in more physical activity and carry a lower risk for both childhood and adult obesity, and obesity-related illnesses such as diabetes, heart disease, and a great host of other health issues.
Children who garden and grow their own food consume more daily servings of fruits and vegetables, show better awareness and interest in overall nutrition, and are more likely to maintain healthy eating habits into their adult life.
Spending time outdoors raises your child's concentration of Vitamin D, which medicine tells us supports healthy immune systems and lifelong bone growth and health.
What's more, spending time outdoors reduces a child's risk of myopia, the fancy medical term for near-sightedness, which means they'll be less likely to need glasses or contacts.
4. they'll be a better friend
As it turns out, children who play outside engage in more cooperative play with other children, more imaginative play, and they fight less with friends!
Even more, children are less likely to partake in bullying or demonstrate aggressive behaviors toward other children while they play in a natural environment.
Stronger observation skills and self-awareness honed by time in the outdoors also help promote lifelong healthy relationships full of empathy and communication.
5. it's good for you too!
While long-term research is still ongoing, scientists theorize that many of these findings for children will hold true for adults as well. By appointing yourself lead outdoor educator for your child, you will be partaking in wonderful self-care that can impact you for a lifetime.
We all know that we are better parents when we take care of ourselves, but it can be so difficult to carve out that time. Research suggests that we don't just have to get time alone to start taking care of ourselves today. Daily or weekly time in the outdoors has been linked to lower instances of depression, anxiety, abusive relationships, and more!
So, do yourself and your child a favor and GET OUT AND PLAY!
If you're feeling unsure and need some practical tips before you brave your local trail, check out this post for 5 Safety Tips You Should Know before Your First Toddler Hike!
If you're local to Dayton, OH and ready to cultivate more amazing nature play for your child, hop over to our Playschool page to learn about our upcoming programming!