Outdoor play is becoming increasingly rare among children both in the U.S. and the U.K.
, even in rural areas. Children are intimately familiar with complex virtual worlds and all their characters, yet no longer learn the names of the creatures that inhabit their back yards. This has far-reaching implications for emotional and physical development and for family life. Closeness to nature can even be a powerful antidote to attention deficit and other disorders.
Children in today's world are under pressure from a number of sources, which is keeping them from the great ? and small ? outdoors. Studies and competition from televisions, computer games, mobile phones and other gadgets is all but severing young people's connection with the natural world. Many children, unfamiliar with the wilds and for the most part living in urban settings, are even afraid of outdoors. Some of this fear is justified, but it is heightened by news coverage and reality TV shows. Parents are aware of the risks of accidents in the outdoor world, but increasing numbers of youngsters are beginning to suffer from repetitive stress injuries by overuse of keyboards and game consol. Peter Cornall, head of leisure safety of Britain's Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents, even goes so far as to suggest that children who do not play outdoors may be more at risk from accident, because they have not learned by trial and error what is safe.
Children need to get wet and stung by insects, they need to learn to slip, trip up, what hurts. Most of all, mental health is totally benefited by an outdoor play. Children who play in natural areas tend to be more creative and able to invent their own games. Nature play also lengthens the attention span.
Researchers at the University of Illinois have discovered that five-year-olds showed a significant reduction in symptoms of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder when they had a chance to get to grips with nature. Proximity to nature in and around the home also promotes self-confidence and improves body-image. It is not always easy to bring your children back into contact with nature, because life has become so urban. To make a small start, get your child to be more aware of a small area at the edge of a garden, field or pond. Focus on the boundaries -- look at the point where rock and earth meet the waters, or see where the trees stop and the field begins.
Sit motionless by a pond. Use all of your senses. Wait for the frogs to plop ? or sing. Go rambling in woods or field with your children. Keep a nature journal, getting the child to use words or pictures to attempt to capture what he or she has experienced ? the flight of a bumblebee, the bend and ping of a blade of grass. Learning the names of all plants and creatures is not actually necessary; opening your eyes and ears to them is already more than enough.
Feeling is believing. American writer Deborah Churchman has a great idea ? the moth walk: first blend up some fruit juice, a touch of beer or wine and some sugar or honey. Strike the mixture to a rough surface just like the bark of a tree. Check the results later and see what you have lured. Encouraging the child to grow a garden or window box will be very rewarding and probably the best way of creating a lasting love of the natural world.
Reuniting kids with nature is as rewarding as finishing several oil painting portraits. Family portrait artists like Jerry Carpos suggest that prolonged contact with nature can strengthen a child’s immune system.
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