Monday, June 21, 2010

Nature Play

Today's parents are beset by anxieties about providing our children with the 'right' development opportunities that will prepare them for "success". The current children of the developed world are the most over-regulated, over-organised, busiest children in human history - and some would argue, also the most limited. The greatest of these limitations is not being able to roam freely in Nature. Fear for children's safety and dwindling Nature are just two of the reasons why children of today spend far less unsupervised time outdoors than their parents did. The commercialisation of childhood is another major factor. Indoor play areas have become big business in the same way that video and TV products evermore replace a child's primary experience of the world.

In his influential book, 'Last Child in the Woods', Richard Loev proposes that in fact enabling our children to play freely in Nature every day, come rain or shine, is one of the greatest things we can do to prepare them for fulfilling adult lives. He presents a vast array of studies that indicate that unstructured Nature play impacts positively on physical, cognitive and emotional development. For instance, a comparative study of pre-schoolers in Norway and Sweden showed that children in a 'green' playschool who spent most of their school time rambling outside in a natural setting had significantly better physical prowess than their counterparts who were engaged in some organised physical activity on a level playground. The Nature children, who ran and tumbled over uneven ground, climbed trees, waded in water and built forts in long grass had better muscle tone and strength, greater balance and co-ordination skills.

Physical development may be the most obvious benefit. However, Nature play is also increasingly being used with promising results as either an alternative or supplementary therapy for children diagnosed with ADHD. Parents involved in these studies report both the immediate calming affect of Nature on their children and an increased capacity to focus after Nature experiences. In a world with an increasing demand for innovation, it may also trigger the ambitions of some parents to know that studies show that children who play often in Nature show markedly greater capacities for quality creativity.

Scientist and Pulitzer Prize-winning author Edward O. Wilson uses his "biophilia" hypothesis to argue that humans have a biological need to "affiliate with other forms of life" - that is, a physical connection to the natural world is fundamental to our individual development.


  1. So spot on Beth, thanks for sharing. I just emailed you a link which I thought I'd post here, because coincidentally it touches on the same subjects. We are limiting our children and disabling them by over-structuring their educational environments...

  2. Beth,

    I just have a quick question for you but couldn't find an email so had to resort to this. I am a green/environmental blogger. Please email my assistant back at when you get a chance. Thanks.


  3. This is an incredibly valid and much needed posting! It deserves repeating - often. I live in a place where most kids grow up barefoot, getting acacia thorns in their feet, running about naked, climbing trees and calling mommy to get rid of snakes in the house. I'm always dumbstruck when we have kids visiting from the big cities (especially America or the UK). They sit indoors, playing on their gaming machines, are incapable of rigging a simple rope in a tree to make a swing and can not use basic tools. I'm always struck by how little physical muscle power they have, how they slouch, how they tire easily and how many allergies they seem to have. More than anything we need to put the wildness back into our children.

  4. In Last Child in the Woods, Richard Loev quotes a boy who was part of his research studies as saying that he most liked to play indoors because that's where all the electrical sockets are! It's a sad indictment of the modern-day failure to value Nature and give our children a chance to appreciate and experience it. On the up side, research does show that it is never too late to awaken that innate connection.