With one in three children in the UK spending less time outside than inmates in maximum-security prisons and ‘Nature Deficit Disorder’ being cited as at least part of the reason that the UK consistently ranks low in childhood happiness and well-being rankings, we need to take a long, hard look at how nature benefits our children. According to the University of Derby, children who are connected to nature achieve more highly in SATs, with this being as important as their attendance at school.
Here are our top ten suggestions for how to connect children to the natural world…
1. Don’t be afraid of dirt! It is full of antibiotics. In fact, it is to the soil that scientists turn when they are looking for new antibiotic strains. Numerous studies have shown that there is a link between playing in dirt and a healthy immune system.
2. Remember that the right clothing means there is no such thing as bad weather! Dressed in waterproofs and wellies, even the youngest child can explore outdoors whatever the weather. Rainy days of children cooped up in the house can become a thing of the past.
3. Let concentration grow through fascination. Children have remarkable levels of concentration, yet we think we have to teach this when they get to school! The key is to allow them to develop ‘fascinated attention’ (Kaplan) during the early years.
4. Go for a bug hunt or track an animal. Children love to find creatures great and small, and will soon learn to spot the tracks of a host of different animals, and will put our observation skills to shame as they spot the tiniest of bugs!
5. Stay up to check out the night sky. The moon and the stars fascinate children, yet they are so often in bed, and miss out on the beauty of the nocturnal world. Try going for a nature walk at night!
6. Take time to splash through the puddles and trail through the leaves. This is the perfect opportunity to introduce rich language experiences that are based in the child’s experiences.
7. Climb a tree! Children need to develop their physical skills, and also benefit enormously from learning how to assess and manage appropriate risk. Help your child to weigh up the risk, and assess how they are going to climb up – and get down again!
8. Conquer your fears of creepy crawlies! Children have a natural affinity with the natural world, and we are their strongest role models. If we take care of even the smallest living thing, children will learn this naturally.
9. Revisit your own childhood and play the games with your child that you enjoyed. Roll down a hill, play conkers and pooh sticks….make perfume from flowers and pick blackberries!
10. Sign up for the National Trust’s Wild Time Pledge and swap thirty minutes a day of screen time for wild time in the outdoors.