Let’s face it – children love running wild in the great outdoors. It’s not only enjoyable, it has masses of health benefits too. Engaging in nature can benefit both our physical and mental wellbeing and has even been found to reduce symptoms of ADHD in children. So, let’s explore how nature can improve the quality of all our lives.
Why is the trend for outdoor play declining?
As a child, I remember spending much of my free time on the recreation ground at the back of our house or making dens with my sister (without adult supervision), and we only ever went home when it was time for dinner. So, why are so many of our kids choosing a more sedentary lifestyle?
Technology is perhaps one of the biggest culprits, with a screen-based existence being the norm in modern society. Peer pressure dictates what latest gadget our children have, and let’s face it, gaming or social media can be addictive.
Another reason is our reluctance (as parents) to let our kids play outside on their own through fear for their safety. Nowadays, we are much more aware of the harm that can come to our children. Of course, we want to protect them from harm but it comes at a cost. A report conducted by the National Trust points out that our ‘zero-risk’ attitude to life is seriously limiting our children’s freedom. We have stopped giving our kids the independence to enjoy the natural world as we once did, despite compelling evidence that children are far more likely to be injured at home.
Nature’s answer to good physical health
This trend towards inactivity is having a profound effect on the health of our kids. Child obesity is becoming the biggest health challenge of our time. Of course, this isn’t solely down to lack of exercise, our fondness for junk food has been playing havoc with our waistlines for years.
However, it’s not all doom and gloom. If we increase the amount of time we spend being active outdoors, we can significantly improve our health and reduce the risk of heart disease and diabetes. Running through the woods or climbing trees develops muscle strength and coordination as well as being a lot of fun!
Living in the UK does mean that we may not always have enough sunshine as we’d like. Recent years have seen an increase in cases of rickets, asthma and even short-sightedness caused by a lack of vitamin D. This makes it even more important to head off outdoors and spend as much time as possible discovering what mother nature has to offer.
Nature on prescription
The lack of nature-based play and the shift towards a screen-based lifestyle also impacts on our children’s mental health. The internet and the ease in which social media can eat away at our self-confidence is alarming. We are bombarded with ‘perfect’ body images and reported cases of cyber bullying has rocketed.
However, there is strong evidence that nature reduces stress and helps ease depression and anxiety disorders – so a trip to the park may just be the medicine our children need. In a National Trust survey, it was found that 80% of the happiest people in the UK said that they had a strong connection with the natural world, compared with less than 40% of the unhappiest.
Making nature part of family time
A whole generation of kids are missing out on something that is vital for their physical and mental wellbeing. It doesn’t have to be about leaving them to play outside alone – it can be a family affair too. There’s strong evidence that children of active parents will become active adults themselves. So, it’s essential for us to allow our kids to reap the benefits of outdoor play and give them the chance to really fire up their imaginations. What child can honestly say it’s not fun to cycle through the woods or go to the park?
Children are naturally inquisitive and love nothing better than getting dirty in the great outdoors. Whether it’s searching for mini beasts or climbing trees, we can be certain that our kids will come home happy and eager to talk about their latest discoveries.
The National Trust are so keen to get the whole family outside that they have published their 50 things to do before you’re 11¾ . It’s a fantastic list of outdoor adventures ranging from something as simple as playing pooh sticks to something more adventurous like camping out in the wild.
It may be slightly trickier to get teenagers away from their phones but with a bit of effort, you might just find some outdoor activities that even the most hardened internet addict might enjoy! Why not combine technology with nature? Geocaching is like a worldwide treasure hunt where a GPS signal is used to search for caches. It’s something that the whole family can enjoy, either locally or while on holiday.
Benefiting from an outdoor holiday
Let’s talk holidays! There are so many different kinds of outdoor holidays that the whole family can enjoy – giving us all a little health boost. Why not take the family camping? It can be as basic or glamourous as you want, but what’s important is that you are engaging with nature. Not only is it a good way to bring families together, it’s also good for our health! Thanks to our trees, the air in the countryside is far less polluted. We are also able to reset our circadian rhythm (our natural body clock) as we instinctively feel sleepy when the sun goes down and wake up at sunrise. No alarm clocks needed here!
If camping isn’t your thing, there are endless possibilities to have a more active family holiday. From cycling or trekking in the mountains, horse riding to sailing. Embrace what the great outdoors has to offer and make some happy memories.
Why not discover what Germany has to offer? Click here and get some great ideas for an active family holiday in Germany.
Explore Germany’s great outdoors with your family’
If you’d like to get some ideas what to do outdoors with your children have a look at my Pinterest board ‘Children and nature’ here.
Here you can read an interesting blog by Children & Nature about ‘Balancing screen time with green time’