Well, it’s that time of year again when we crank up the heating, put our warm socks on and snuggle up on the sofa.
When the weekend arrives, staying inside where it is warm and dry seems like the obvious choice but, if we repeatedly do this, it will start to take its toll on our children. To be blunt, it’s not good for them.
There is growing research to say that children need to be outdoors, every day, for at least three hours. I know, as a former teacher, that when it is cold, wet, windy, icy or snowing (basically anything other than warm and dry) many schools have ‘indoor play.’ If schools do this over a number of days or weeks, children miss out on vital outdoor time.
Now, it’s possible that kids may not want to go outside, in fact, they will do anything to avoid it, but they really need to. Let me explain why.
Children who don’t regularly spend time outside, playing freely, can suffer. It can be detrimental to not only their physical health, but also their mental wellbeing. There is evidence to show that more and more ‘indoor’ children are struggling with their fine motor skills (e.g. using a pencil or cutting with scissors) and they are unable to regulate their gross motor skills (e.g. bumping into things, lacking core strength and using too much force when interacting with friends).
When we restrict children’s movement, these are the results.
Some children spend so much time indoors that they are growing intolerant to their natural surroundings. They don’t like the feeling of mud, grass or rain. They don’t like the wind on their face or sand on their hands. It’s almost like they are allergic to it.
Author, Richard Louv, coined the informal term ‘Nature Deficit Disorder’ and he is concerned, like many other professionals, that children are not having the outdoor experiences they so desperately need.
They are becoming disconnected from the natural world. There are a number of benefits for children when they are surrounded by nature; it builds their confidence and resilience, promotes creativity, imagination and problem-solving, provides a different form of stimulation, awakens the senses and gets them moving.
It also builds their immune system and they get their daily dose of vitamin D. In our current situation, this is more important than ever. Children become more aware and alive when they are outside.
The great outdoors has a wonderful way of knowing exactly what each child needs at the time; it calms those children who are anxious or stressed, whilst providing a vast, exciting playground for those who have energy to burn or physical aggression to channel.
There is a saying: “If your children are bouncing off the walls, take the walls away”.
I use the outdoors as a form of natural medicine for my son. Back in the good old days, pre-COVID, when children went to birthday parties with other little humans and ate their weight in sugar, we would bundle our son into the car soon after the last candle had been blown out and take him to the beach or the woods to rid his body of the saccharine high. We even tally up our time outside and try to reach 1,000 hours each year.
More and more people are starting to realise the benefits of being outside. Outdoor or forest educational spaces are becoming increasingly popular. It’s not unusual to visit an outdoor nursery and see three-year olds lighting fires, using tools and climbing
The children are engrossed in their surroundings and they are learning in a very real, organic environment. They use nature as their classroom and without the constraints and restrictions that come with the indoors, children are free to explore, create and develop important skills.
If you’re on board with this way of thinking, then how can you increase your child’s exposure to nature? Well as always, we have to be the model for our children.
If we start talking about weather in negative terms such as the ‘horrible rain’ or the ‘pesky wind’ then this will filter down to our kids.
We need them to know that we value the time we spend in nature too. If children don’t feel a connection to the natural world then there will be no incentive for them to protect it.
We need to show our children the wonders of the beaches, the forests, the hills and the rivers, so they will be driven to look after them in the future.
Many of my favourite childhood memories are centered around being outdoors; skiing in the mountains, swimming in the sea, camping in the fields. These are the things I take with me on my adult journey through life and the experiences I had (and continue to have) in nature, have brought me great joy and contentment.
So, when you look outside this weekend and it appears dark and cold, rather than shutting the curtains and reaching for the remote, grab your coat and boots and declare a family nature adventure!
Get outside and explore what our fantastic region has to offer. Remember, just as Alfred Wainwright said: “There’s no such thing as bad weather, only unsuitable clothing”.
For more information and daily parenting support from Nadia, visit thetranquiltreehouse.com