We are a part of nature, not apart from it. This is perhaps most evident in children. If you’ve ever observed a child in a garden studying an insect or a flower, you can see that nature is capable of being an all-consuming blanket of joy. Children left to their own devices will gravitate to nature, completely captivated by it and fully in awe of it. Sadly, we seem to
have a habit of conditioning our children out of nature.
A 2019 study revealed that the average child in the UK spends less time outdoors than a prison inmate. There are government guidelines that recommend prisoners to have at least one hour’s exercise outdoors each day – the minimum requirement to maintain physical and mental health. No such equivalent for the nation’s youth. And as a result, the time our children spend outdoors is decreasing. 74% of children spend less than 60 minutes outdoors each day.
In the same way that society has become increasingly disconnected from the natural world, we are now in the unhappy position of raising our children in a state of ‘nature deficit’. Adult diseases such as diabetes, obesity and mental health issues are becoming more common in our children. The lack of access to nature and the worsening health of the nation and not parallel accidents, they are very much one and the same challenge.
Outdoor play is essential for children, making them happier and healthier, forging resilience, building stronger bodies and minds. We can see that there are challenges to time outdoors – weather, long school days, access to safe open spaces – but that doesn’t mean that we should not try to bring nature into the lives of our children every day.
This topic is one of personal interest for two reasons. I recognised that some of my challenges as an adult had sprung from my sedentary, indoors, city-lifestyle – the nature lover in me had taken a back seat so as to pass exams and have a ‘successful’ career. The second came from my own experience as a parent and watching my son’s innate love of nature. I wanted to maximise his time in the great outdoors in the hope that he might avoid some of the unnatural pitfalls I discovered.
I am forever the student and as a family we are learning to implement strategies that incorporate nature into our everyday lives. Planning the day to have walks before school, using nature and the great outdoors to supplement the school curriculum, feeding childhood curiosity for the natural world at every available opportunity. The more I learn about the impact of time outdoors on children, the more committed I am to spreading that message beyond my own family.
We are passionate about bringing children back to nature and sharing our own experiences to help others. We know that some parents don’t have the confidence to spend time outdoors with their kids – if you didn’t grow up with regular access to nature, it can be hard to know where to start. Working with forest school practitioners and outdoor educators, we can also help teachers bring more nature into their lessons. We also have resources and activities available for children of all ages to get out into nature and take that innate connection with the natural world from seed to flower.
Every child needs nature. Not just the ones whose parents appreciate nature. Not only
those of a certain economic class or culture or set of abilities. Every child.