How long is it since you gave yourself the chance to go outdoors and enjoy the sunshine and interact with nature?
Today is National Play Outside Day!
Sponsored by the Australian Conservation Foundation, Play Outside Day draws awareness to the importance of our natural world, both for our own health and the health of our planet. In today’s busy lifestyles, we spend much of our time rushing from place to place or in front of computer and television screens. It is easy to forget that nature is vital for our communities, economy and livelihoods. Protecting our clean air and water supplies is crucial, but too often the impacts of modern life damage the very life-blood that sustains us.
Today is our chance to reconnect with nature, to remind ourselves of the beauty and awe that surrounds and nurtures us.
Interacting with nature is vital for our wellbeing and our children’s development. There is a wealth of scientific evidence that shows that even small doses of interacting with nature does wonders for our physical and mental health.
Play Outside Day draws awareness to the importance of our natural world, both for our own health and the health of our planet”
Did you know that simply gazing out your window or taking a short stroll in a forest or the bush can have broad-reaching effects on your physical and mental health? A leading study by Professor Roger Ulrich, co-founding Director of the Centre for Health Systems and Design at Texas University of Architecture and Medicine, found that gazing at nature can help to speed recovery from surgery and reduce levels of pain and stress by helping to boost the body’s immune system. Another recent summary of studies into promoting good health through contact with nature also found that interacting with nature can have a wide a variety of positive health impacts, including but by no means limited to: ADHD, anxiety disorders, cancer, cardiovascular disease, depression, diabetes, migraines, respiratory disease, allergies, eczema and weight loss.
Did you know that simply gazing out your window or taking a short stroll in a forest or the bush can have broad-reaching effects on your physical and mental health?”
Spending time in natural environments is also a key means of promoting good development in children, both normal developing children and those with a range of medical conditions.
All children need access to nature to help them develop both physical and mental skills necessary to thrive in life. This can take all sorts of forms, but the main point is to regularity, either at the park, the beach or the garden. Activities such as climbing trees, making mud pies, building forts or obstacle courses, or making art out of nature pieces they find are all great ways of encouraging them and boosting this engagement. Children can gain wonderful physical gross and fine motor skills, resilience and creativity, amongst other advantages.
In today’s busy lifestyles, we spend much of our time rushing from place to place or in front of computer and television screens.”
Again, research backs up the assertion that playing outside is good for children’s development. For example, Pyle (2002) found that exposure to natural environments improves children’s cognitive development by improving awareness, reasoning and observational skills. Wells (2000) found that views of and contact with nature led children to score higher on tests of concentration and self-discipline—and the greener the environment the better the results! Bartlett (1996) has also shown that outdoor environments are important for children’s sense of independence and autonomy. Moore and Wong (1997) showed that when children are in natural environments, their play is more diverse with imaginative and creative play that fosters language and collaborative skills. Whilst these are just a few examples, it is clear that children gain not only mental and physical benefits from interacting with the natural world, but also develop vital life skills and resilience from the experience too.
In addition to the benefits evident to all children from playing outside, these experiences can be even more important for children suffering from a range of medical conditions. There are physical, mental and social positive health outcomes that are vital for children learning to live every day with the stresses and impairments imposed by their conditions. For example, Wells and Evans (2003) found that nature buffers the impact of life’s stresses on children and helps them deal with adversity. Again, the greater the amount of exposure to nature, the greater the benefits. Providing access to nature can be particularly important for children with autism spectrum disorder who need to take breaks from the stress of living with their condition and the sensory over-stimulation they can frequently experience. Interacting with nature and being outside can help them to release tension, physical compulsions such as hand flapping and spinning that are not appropriate in the classroom and find cocooning spaces to shelter from noise, light and other sensory stimulants. It is also important for children with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder who need to take breaks and physically exert themselves in order to renew their powers of concentration. Grahn et al (2007) also found that regularly interacting with natural environments improved children’s motor fitness, including coordination, balance and agility. These are particularly important for children suffering from particular medical conditions that can impose impairments to these skills.
There is a wealth of scientific evidence that shows that even small doses of interacting with nature does wonders for our physical and mental health.”
Socially, interacting with nature can be great for children, especially those suffering from some medical conditions, allowing for the breaking down of barriers and focusing on capabilities and fun rather than limitations. Moore (1986) found that children with play in nature have more positive feelings about each other and that natural environments stimulate social interaction between children. Additionally, Malone and Tranter (2003) found that play in a diverse natural environment reduces or eliminates bullying.
The evidence stacks up. Our natural environments are vital for our physical and mental health, and sense of wellbeing. Truthfully, this is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the scientific research on how important getting outdoors into nature really is for us, adults and children, young and old. Here at Therapeutic Gardens, we focus on providing purpose-built garden spaces that help to promote health outcomes and accessibility for individuals and groups with specific medical and therapeutic needs, but interacting with nature is important for us all. Every one of us needs to regularly connect with nature, it is built into us as human beings. Too often we lose sight of this need and allow our natural environments to be diminished, exploited or destroyed altogether. This is our chance to remind ourselves how lucky we really are.
Wells (2000) found that views of and contact with nature led children to score higher on tests of concentration and self-discipline—and the greener the environment the better the results!”
So, make sure you take this opportunity to go outside and play! It can be as simple as taking a bush walk, visiting your favourite picnic ground, strolling to your favourite lookout point or spending time in your own backyard. Get a little grubby and plant some bulbs, autumn is the perfect time to prepare your garden for spring. But, most importantly, enjoy yourself and the places you love.
Grahn, P., Martensson, F., Lindblad, B., Nilsson, P. and Ekman, A. (1997) UTE pa Dagis, Stad & Land nr. 93/1991 Sveriges lantbruksuniversitet, Alnarp
Malone, K. & Tranter, P. (2003) Children’s environmental learning and the use, design and management of schoolgrounds, Children, Youth and Environments, 13(2)
Moore, R. (1986), The power of nature orientations of girls and boys toward biotic and abiotic settings on a reconstructed schoolyard, Children’s Environments, Quarterly, 3(3)
Moore, R. (1996), Compact nature: The role of playing and learning on children’s lives’, Journal of Therapeutic Horticulture, 8, 72-82
Moore, R. & Wong, H. (1997) Natural Learning: Rediscovering Nature’s Way of Teaching. Berkeley, CA: MIG Communications
Pyle, R. (2002) Eden in a vacant lot: Special places, species and kids in community life’, Children in Nature: Psychological, Sociocultural and Evolutionary Investigations, Kahn, P.H. and Kellert, S.R. (eds) Cambridge: MIT Press
Wells, N. M. (2002) ‘At home with nature, effects of “Greenness” on children’s cognitive functioning’, Environment and Behaviour, 32(6), 775-795
Wells, N.M. & Evans, G.W. (2003) ‘Nearby nature: A buffer on life stress among rural children’, Environment and Behaviour, 35(3), 311-330