If Vitamin N could be sold in stores, it would surely fly off the shelves. Although not found in stores, it IS widely available and usually affordable.
Children Need More Vitamin “Nature”
According to Richard Louv, author of bestselling book Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children From Nature-Deficit Disorder, children today do not get enough Vitamin N – a phrase for the health benefits of nature popularized by his books.
Armed with many studies, Louv (and others) makes a persuasive case for ensuring that children get enough Vitamin N. Exposure to and play in natural settings is linked to an astonishing array of benefits for children – literally increasing their happiness, overall health, specific cognitive abilities, and positive social interactions with peers and adults.
Frequent Playtime Outside Reaps Greatest Gains
For young children, nature’s biggest ‘bang for the buck’ is gained when they are regularly engaged in free play outdoors. Outside play in structured activities or sports led by adults can be beneficial. However, studies show that the most robust benefits occur when children engage in free play, following their own curiosity and interests: digging, climbing, cloud-gazing, puddle-jumping, bug-watching.
Log-walking, fort-making, stick-poking, rock-collecting, frog-catching – all awesome strong, happy child builders.
Studies Show Wide-Ranging Benefits of Vitamin N For Children
A growing body of research conducted in the United States and internationally indicate that playtime in nature can strengthen children’s abilities across developmental domains. Time outdoors, playing freely, cultivates children’s:
Sense of Well-being and Wonder
- Children (and many adults, for that matter) feel calmer and more peaceful within minutes of stepping outside. Free play in nature stimulates children’s creativity, imagination, and sense of wonder.
Physical Health and Strength
- Free play in nature lowers children’s blood pressure and stress levels. Children who play outside regularly are more coordinated and agile, and get sick less often. They are even less likely to need glasses!
- Regular nature time improves children’s reasoning, focused attention and observation skills. Play in nature tends to be more varied and creative, honing language, problem-solving, and collaboration skills.
- Children play more cooperatively outdoors, and there is less bullying behavior. Children with regular free play outside demonstrate more compassion and sensitivity. Overall behavior improvements are seen in children who spend an increased amount of time outdoors in free play.
So Why Are Children Inside So Much These Days?
Many children are missing out on the natural opportunities for healthy development experienced through outdoor play, not to mention the fun. Even though 80% of parents (surveyed by The Nature Conservancy) perceive children’s lack of time in nature as an “extremely or somewhat serious” problem, children are indoors more than ever. For so many reasons.
Technology & Modern Conveniences
- TV and computers provide effortless, immediate entertainment. Nearly half of preschool children have a TV in their room. Children are six times more likely to play video games than ride bikes.
- Heating and air-conditioning is pretty much everywhere, drawing all of us indoors. We avoid what we now consider “too hot” or “too cold”.
Safety & Other Parent Concerns
- Urban and suburban sprawl and traffic have led to fewer safe outdoor play spaces.
- Parents today worry more about what’s “out there” – from predators and unsafe neighborhoods to dirt and bugs. Many parents feel pressure to provide young children with structured “enrichment” activities so they will have a leg up on academics, the arts, or organized sports.
Ironically, one of the most powerful enrichment activities for young children is already available, free-of-charge, and filled with wonder for children. It’s right outside the door.
There are many ways – even for the most indoorsy of caring adults – to reconnect children and themselves to nature. The benefits for children are substantial and increasingly well-documented.
Ways To Bring Nature to Children (and Children to Nature)
- First, be safe. Supervise children. Teach children to ask for adult guidance when exploring someplace new.
- Nature play can happen anywhere outside, even in small spaces. Porches, yards, driveways, and sidewalks offer blue skies, breezes, and sunlight (Vitamin D!). And often plants, animals, and bugs. Playing in these spaces ‘counts’ for nature time. Ask children what they see, smell, and hear. What can be identified or collected?
- Keep it simple, and see what children are interested in. Children are in fact learning when they shuffle in the leaves, twirl in the wind, toss stones in the water, get close and touch soft moss or follow an ant parade.
- Adapt to weather. Puddle-stomp in raincoats and boots. Manage the cold with layers, hats, and mittens. Sunscreen, water bottles, and bug spray keep children comfortable in summer heat.
- Bring bits of nature inside and start exploring. Twigs can be stuck in play dough or tied together. Leaves can be painted, used in collages, or impressed on paper. Collect bark, moss, grass, acorns, and pebbles to create villages or fairy houses.
- Bring inside things outside. See what happens when the sun melts crayons onto a paper plate. And then when that gets poked with a stick. Explore with a magnifying glass. Plastic animals or figures start a new adventure in an outdoor space. Bring books and a blanket and read in the sun.
- Water outside is different than water inside. Dare we say better? Children love to water gardens, in pots or plots. A 2-liter soda bottle, with holes poked in it and filled with water becomes a portable sprinkler. Making mud pies is highly sensory exploration and really messy fun. Trees, sidewalks, and fences can be “water- painted” with a big paint brush for lots of exploring and good motor development.
When guided and supervised by caring adults, children have much to gain and learn from the natural world. The possibilities for how adults can connect children to the great outdoors are unlimited. So go outside together, have fun, and let Vitamin N develop stronger, healthier and happier children!
Click here to print a “Blogtips” handout with pointers from this post.
P.S. Find more ideas about all kinds of outdoor play on our “Awesome Outdoor Play” Pinterest page.Print