Playing in Nature

Sometimes, I have a feeling that my kids still haven't mastered walking. Ever since they let go of my hand for the first time, they've been running, jumping, climbing, hopping, almost flying...but not walking. This incredible amount of energy is one of the reasons why we spend so much time outdoors. It's easier when they run and jump in the forest and not around the flat. Playing in nature has several benefits—not only those connected with having too much energy.

One research team[i] studied data from 20 countries and found that spending time in, or living close to, natural green spaces is associated with diverse and significant health benefits. It has to do with having more opportunities for physical activity and socialising.

And speaking of physical activities, here are a few interesting facts we learned while jumping and running around, what we call, our forest:

- The world record for the long jump is held by by Mike Powell, who jumped 8.95 meters. 

- Usain Bolt from Jamaica became the fastest runner in the world when he ran 100 metres in a world record time of 9.58 seconds. 

Meanwhile, exposure to the diverse variety of bacteria present in natural areas may also have benefits for the immune system and reduce inflammation. Just think of all the things kids touch, lick, and taste when they are outside.

According to another study[ii] on spontaneous experiments in pre-schoolers' exploratory play, every child is a natural scientist. Interacting with natural environments allows children to learn by doing and experimenting with ideas.

Playing in nature has been our favourite activity. It includes almost everything children (and grown-ups) need: imagination, fresh air, bonding, and learning. Here is an extract from playing that shows how this type of play fosters the imagination. And a huge plus—there is no tidying up.

Playing in the forest: To Mars!!

Rocket = log       Ticket = leaf

Power P: Come! Quick into the rocket!


Einstein E: In the rocket.

Power P: Quick, come here!

Einstein E [talking to his mum]: But I will be next to you, and Power P will be in front of us.

Power P: And I will count!

Power P & Einstein E: Five, four, three, two, one.

Einstein E: Lift off [holding tight to the log]!

Power P: And we flew away.

Mum: And where are we flying to?

Power P: I paid for the ticket and I will read it to you from the ticket [looking at a leaf].

Mum: OK, read.

Power P: We are going to land where there are a lot of penguins and polar bears.

Einstein E: Penguins and polar bears.

Mum: Well, where is that?

Einstein E: They are also on Earth, aren’t they?

Mum: A-ha. They are on Earth.

Einstein E: On my ticket it says…we are going to land on…

Power P: Einstein E paid for one ticket.

Einstein E: On Mars.

Mum: We are going to Mars?

Power P: But Mars is too small for us. For us.

Mum: How do you mean it’s too small?

Power P: Because it’s like this [showing small size with his fingers].

Mum: Mars?

Power P: Yes.

Einstein E: Ah...those planets.

(Age: 4 years 3 months)

There are days, however, when getting your kids put on their shoes and play outside is easier said than done. Sometimes, those conversations are more like:

Mum: Hey, we haven't been outside today. Let's go.⠀
Kid: No, I'm just too tired.⠀
Mum: Well, our bodies need some fresh air and sun. ⠀
Kid: No, I might die if we go. I have zero energy.⠀

Then, we need some creative ideas. Let's call these ideas - a bribe. ⠀

Mum: We can play Nimitz on that tree log. (Nimitz is an aircraft carrier, and my kids have been crazy about it.)
Kid: I can't get to that log. My legs don't function well if I'm so tired.⠀
Mum: Would half a chocolate bar give you enough energy?⠀
Kid: Ok. Let's go.⠀
And after three hours of running, jumping, and climbing outside..⠀
Mum: Can we just go home already? Please?⠀
Kid: But we just got here. It's still not completely dark.

You can find some ideas for outdoor activities here

Now, stop reading and go outside with your kid. But, before you leave, get a copy of the book Parenting: Easier Said Than Done? and read more about play, nature and funny stories with and about kids. 

[i] University of East Anglia. ‘It's official—spending time outside is good for you.’ ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 6 July 2018.

[ii] Cook, C. et al. (2011). Where science starts: Spontaneous experiments in preschoolers’ exploratory play. Cognition, 120(3), 341-349