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How Can Nature Support Child Development?

by Merve

Raising children. How fun and challenging at the same time. Whenever I am present somewhere where parents talk about their child-raising experiences, I mostly hear these two words.

Raising a child brings numerous responsibilities. Parents hassle in between knowledge about child development, care, psychology, communication, and even some medicine. They usually share the same purpose: raising children who are responsible individuals and citizens. However, to achieve this goal, children need to acquire particular skills during their developmental periods. 

Child development
Photo from pixabay.com

Humans show physical, cognitive, social, and emotional variations from infancy to older age. Although lifespan development is crucial for highlighting the potential for improvement in all stages of life, it is undeniable that childhood and adolescence are pivotal periods in shaping our overall growth and well-being. Therefore, effective times and activities during these periods are critical!

As a parent, have you ever considered the potential benefits of allowing your children to interact with nature? The evidence suggests that it could be a valuable investment for people, including children. While the impact of nature on child development and mental well-being may not be as widely discussed as other factors, understanding its value is a crucial step towards integrating it into children’s lives.

You have a unique opportunity to shape your children’s experiences with nature. By providing them with the opportunities, you are not only enriching their lives but also fostering their development in multiple domains.

Read more and prepare them…

Kids, Playtime And Nature

Towards a world of play and connection, for every child.

Unicef

Playtime and children are two inseparable concepts, and even scholars proposed the need for playing in child development.  Living in urban areas, some of us lack safe spaces for kids to play outside, explore, and learn from these experiences.  When it comes to green areas, it even becomes more difficult to access specifically for some children who are subject to environmental inequality due to their residency, economic conditions, or ethnicity. 

Kid playing in nature
Photo by Scott Webb from pexels.com

But aren’t these green areas the most beautiful places for kids to get their hands dirty and explore?

Just imagine the joy of children playing freely in these breathtaking landscapes, their hands digging into the rich soil and mud. Imagine our little pioneers exploring the wonders of biodiversity through different plants, animals, and insects. All that while breathing fresh air.

Children deserve to have proper conditions for healthy growth. In fact, studies highlight that limited exposure to nature may cause negative long-term consequences. Moreover, experts stress the power of nature in shaping a child’s life. It is clear that this topic requires more attention from parents as well as educators.

Teachers have the power to implement nature related activities to the curriculum as well as communicate the importance with parents, who further influence other parents by sharing stories, experiences, and practical information. This is a topic of great importance that other parents should also utilize for their kids. Hopefully, this article will prompt your curiosity as a parent and become an incentive resource to read more, learn, and transfer your knowledge.

Now, it is time to notice nature’s favourable impacts in detail.

Child Physical Development

Physical development is the most concrete indicator of growth since birth, and children show multiple physical progress while maturing. They grow taller, their weight increases, and they show visible advancements in their movement patterns. As a part of physical development, motor skills constitute a critical aspect of childhood development.

Studies showed that when children had the opportunity to spend their time in schools where natural elements were accessible, they could better develop motor skills, particularly locomotor skills and stability. Moreover, children who played in the forest environment showed increased abilities in balance and coordination compared to children whose playgrounds were regular school areas.

Cognitive Development

Cognitive skills include core abilities for individuals, such as attention, planning, problem-solving, imagination, judgment, and other related components. We need them when we interact with our environment from the early years to the end of our lives. They contribute to us in a wide range of areas, from academic progress in student life to work life during adulthood and healthy ageing during our older years.

The increase in the creative thinking skills of children participating in nature preschool education programs revealed the importance of nature in education and children’s cognitive development. Scholars observed differences in various skills, such as fluency, originality, and imagination, in children participating in programs, depending on factors such as the education offered, how it is implemented, and its intensity. Another study conducted on economically disadvantaged urban children showed increased cognitive functioning, including attentional capacity, when they relocated to greener spaces. Additionally, these children sustained their improved performance months after their relocation. Different studies supported advanced cognitive performance in sustained and selective attention and memory after nature exposure. These results indicate the restorative impact of natural environments.

Child exploring - development
Photo from pixabay.com

Socio-emotional Development

Socio-emotional skills, also known as 21st-century skills, are fundamental. When considering the challenges an individual faces due to global problems, pandemics, or several other unpredictable circumstances, acquiring those skills becomes more important in our contemporary world. We require awareness of ourselves, others, and society and should know how to manage our emotions. Establishing healthy relationships and acting responsibly are other significant skills for us and for our world.

Socio-emotional learning is a widely accepted education program that helps students gain those essential skills, and research has shown its connection with nature-based activities. A study found that early school children’s connection with nature is positively associated with overall socio-emotional learning skills, self-awareness, self-management, and relationship skills. Also, a meta-analysis proved that exposing the natural environment may positively influence the self regulation of children.

To sum up, children are exposed to a multitude of components, colours, materials, and images in the natural environment. They transform them however they wish and shape their play. Natural scapes are also more complex than any other play area, which gives children opportunities to explore more, use their body, attention, creativity, etc.

Positive Youth Development

Every child has talents, strengths, and interests that offer the child potential for a bright future. The field of positive youth development focuses on each and every child’s unique talents, strengths, interests, and future potential.

William Damon

Youth may experience various challenges. For some young people, the difficulties may be greater compared to others, with many diverse and complex mechanisms coming into play. At this point, the Positive Youth Development Approach focuses on young people’s potential and progress rather than seeing their difficulties as problems and situations that need to be corrected.

Women in nature
Photo by Garry Barnes from pexels.com

Positive youth development promotes competence, confidence, connection, character, and caring (5C) for young people. Adolescents who live in rural areas reported somewhat high levels of connection with nature and most of the 5C elements. The link between 5C elements and nature shows that nature can be a potential resource for positive youth development.

Learning In Nature

Generally, as we have seen, nature helps children in different ways and contributes to their development. In this regard, we provided research evidence about educational activities in natural environments and what they bring into children’s lives. Schools prepare students not only for their academic and further careers but also prepare them for life. For this reason, they are an essential part of children’s growth and learning processes. The comprehensive project implemented in the UK showed how meaningful learning in nature is. The project transformed natural spaces into classrooms and motivated children to learn with enjoyable experiences. Children reported positive outcomes in terms of their social interactions, mood, and well-being.

Nature’s integration into education has gained importance, and some programs and schools use the power of nature in their curriculum or extracurricular activities. If you are looking for a school for your children, you can pay more attention to whether they structure nature-related activities as part of their education.

Some Tips Not To Experience Nature Deficiency

Nature deficit disorder was used by Richard Louv in “Last Child in the Woods Saving Our Children from Nature-Deficit Disorder” book. It is not a diagnosis; it emphasizes the absence of a natural environment in a child’s world and the disadvantages it brings.   Urban life limits a child’s accessibility to the natural world; however, various ways are available that can partially eliminate their nature deficiency, although they cannot fully replicate the experience of being in nature. 

We suggest direct contact with natural environments as much as possible. However, considering life in cities where there are scarce green spaces and busy life conditions, children may not employ the benefits of nature. Every parent wants to prepare the best conditions for their children, and some small steps can help children enjoy the advantages of nature at home or near home. 

Designing A Home Inspired By Nature

Home design can help us feel nature inside. With some small touches, we can make severe differences in our homes and bring into our rooms the elements that have improved us for centuries. Humans sustain their existence by adopting their environment. Biophilic Design integrates elements of nature into constructed environments, acknowledging nature’s influence on our current form and adaptation. By utilizing this knowledge, it aims to promote human well-being and flourishing.

Plants
Photo by Teona Swift from pexels.com

This home design is not only for your kids. Biophilic Design might be good for every person who lives in those naturally and wonderfully designed places, no matter their age.

Check out this plant shelf as a part of the concept idea.

Indoor Planting

Planting is a valuable activity that allows parents to spend healthy time with their kids while experiencing mindfulness. Children are exposed to many external stimuli during the day, and such activities as watching television or using computers and phones distract them from the focus of the present moment. On the contrary, planting keeps children in the current time while engaging seeds and soil.

Also, isn’t it super meaningful to give life to a seed that they are responsible for growing? With this opportunity, children experience compassion and empathy.

Are there any other benefits? Yes, children exercise motor skills since they need to use their fingers, hands, and eyes and coordinate themselves during activities. 

Nature and child development
Photo by Anna Shvets from pexels.com

What you need is simple. A garden kit, some water, yourself and your kid. That’s all.

Parents Spending Time With Kids In Nature

Parents are the first role models in children’s lives. They observe and socially learn what to do or how to do from their parents. At this point, your relationship with nature sets an example for children. We encourage you to spend time in nature with your kids. In addition to contributing to the bond between parents and children, those activities can also contribute to the connection between the child and nature.

You can play with your kids in nature. For instance:

  • Identify the characteristics of trees and flowers together.
  • Collect colourful leaves from parks or any green areas. You can use them for crafting.
  • Create different shapes using stones, bushes, and other various natural elements together with your children.

Whatever contains trees, flowers, or any natural elements might be an option to visit: a nearby garden or a green playground to engage in those activities.

Let them play in nature to explore, imagine, connect, and grow with your accompany.


Merve

Article by Merve Kuloglu. I love nature and its vibrant colours. My goal is to understand and embrace all life, present and future, beyond just humanity. Guided by the principle of sustainability, I aim to integrate it with my background in psychology to foster a more harmonious world.


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