"Guys, look what I found!" yelled my 3-year-old from across the playground. Curious little bodies quickly rushed from the monkey-bars and the slides to the see what he was talking about. It was an earthworm. "Ewww!" yelled one little voice. "It's moving!" pointed out another, "Let's give it some water", suggested a third. I will always remember how one afternoon my son made new friends, with whom he still plays with today when they "discovered" an earthworm.
Resurrecting Free Play
How many hours a week does your child have time to play freely, with little to no guidance and doing activities of their choice? Playing is just as important as sleeping and eating in a child's life–it's an essential part of learning. Young children learn through different forms of play. Studies show that playing has the potential to strengthen all aspects of children’s well-being.
Make-believe play strengthens social and emotional development by allowing children to reenact real-life scenarios using already acquired language. There has been a sharp decrease in free play over the past decades. Both educators and parents are rushing children to learn to read and write as early as 2 or 3 years old, robbing young children of the pleasures of childhood. These precious preschool years are those where parents and caregivers have the most influence in allowing children to make up their own games, rules and solve their own conflicts with as little intervention as possible.
Outdoor green-spaces encourage children to express themselves freely and creatively.
Natural settings offer the opportunity to play with open-ended materials such as leaves, rocks, sticks, water etc.
Playing outside fosters social interaction and problem-solving skills
Playing in Nature promotes future environmental stewardship.
Spending time in nature has shown positive outcomes in children with Attention Deficit Disorder*
Play is not a break from learning. It is endless, delightful, deep, engaging, practical learning. It is the doorway into a child's heart.
Physical activity vs. Free play: Does language matter?
Government agencies often promote increasing physical activity in both young children and adults as a way to improve health and reduce obesity rates. Studies show that unstructured free play can burn more calories than school and sports programs combined! Burdette, H. and Whitaker, R. (2005) suggest that instead of promoting “physical activity” in children we should change the language to play and emphasize the cognitive, emotional, and social benefits of children's free play contrary to just focusing on fitness and weight reduction.
Exposure to nature and health
In my early days of parenthood, I would head to the park across the street at the crack of dawn. There was something extraordinary about nature that calmed my crying and restless baby. The fresh air, the soothing sounds of birds, the blue sky... who knows what it was, but it worked.
There is an intrinsic relationship between nature and our overall health. Scientific evidence shows that living near or around nature has a positive influence on our overall health and wellbeing. The connection between nature and attention has been further explored by researchers who suggest that nature can also have a positive impact on children with Attention Deficit Disorders (ADD). A study by Dr. Andrea Faber Taylor found that children with ADHD concentrated better after a walk in the park. Approximately 9.4% of children 2-17 years of age have at some point been diagnosed with ADHD, an astonishing number that should convince anyone of the importance of green spaces in your community.