Today’s families are busier than ever. Juggling jobs, schooling and extracurricular activities can be difficult, but it is important that children are exposed to nature regularly.
“Getting children involved with nature helps them to develop into balanced and healthy people,” said Melanie Allen, a regional Extension agent for family and child development with the Alabama Cooperative Extension System.
Letting children participate in outdoor extracurricular activities is a start, but even these activities are usually structured. According to the Penn State Extension, children need to be participating in outdoor activities that are free of structure and that immerse them in nature.
As parents, it is important to encourage your child’s connection with nature by setting an example. You can encourage nature involvement by simply playing or exploring in your backyard or going for a walk.
Ways to get outside
“Make a happy memory with your child in nature and they will forever yearn for more of it,” Allen said.
According to Allen, when you are exploring nature with your children, it helps to ask probing questions such as “What do you see and hear?” or “How does it feel and smell?” Questions like these help children use their senses and imaginations.
Now is a great time to start a nature collection, Allen says. Pinecones, rocks, leaves and nuts do not come with instructions and therefore, leave room for children to use their imagination and have fun using the objects.
Another way to bring your children outside is to get them to help you with gardening or watering plants. Providing your children with opportunities to care for nature gives them responsibility and teaches children to care for the environment and others, according the Penn State Extension.
Encouraging imagination is also very beneficial to children. Finding shapes in clouds, creating a nature treasure box, bird watching, star gazing and creating nature collages are just some of the ways that you can easily engage with the outdoors.
There are many health benefits associated with being outside daily.
Just being outside, your body is producing vitamin D. Producing vitamin D daily is very important and how much you produce
depends on how much time you are outside, where you live, and the color of your skin. Lighter skin tends to produce vitamin D faster than darker skin, according to Allen.
Childhood obesity is a rapidly growing problem and that approximately 9 million children are overweight or obese. Encouraging your children to engage with nature keeps them active fostering a healthy lifestyle.
“Let’s go outside in nature and get some exercise,” Allen said. “There are benefits for all of us, young and old.”