My children are adults now. When they were little we played outside, a lot. Our favorite haunts were Loantaka Park, Jockey Hollow, The Great Swamp, and Schiff Nature Preserve. We would walk in the streams with our water shoes, turn over rocks to catch unsuspecting crayfish, or head to the Great Swamp to watch the water birds from the blinds along the trails. We had front row seats to the seasonal specials: the dramatic aerial acrobatics of the male Woodcock at dusk during the spring mating season, the frenzy of fertilization of shad eggs in water so shallow the big fish barely fit, turtles warming up on floating logs in the pond. We talked, laughed, and relaxed in the tranquility and beauty of nature. When we got home we would be calm, relaxed, and content.
Today many parents and children are fearful of “outside”, uncomfortable in an environment that has uneven surfaces, soil, and, of course, mysterious critters. Some of the fears arise from legitimate concerns, like Lyme Disease, yet a thorough tick check in the evening takes care of that. Wikipedia says the tick must be attached for 36 to 48 hours before the bacteria can spread to a human being, and IF the tick is carrying it. Not all ticks do.
A body of knowledge of the benefits of outdoor and wild place play has developed since my children were little. These benefits include:
- Control, mastery, and physical confidence in their bodies in space.
- Greater comfort in calculating and taking risks.
- A more acute awareness of what is in their immediate environment which transfers into other environments as well.
- Improved social skills due to the unstructured environment of out-of-doors necessitates shared choices of where to go, what to do, and when to do it.
- Practice in both personal and joint decision making and problem solving since outdoor spaces are more varied and less structured than indoor places.
- Development of creative thinking through being forced to innovate playthings on the spot.
- Increased attention span by encouraging self direction and curiosity.
- Improved vision. A study published by the American Academy of Ophthalmology found that children who spend time outside are at a reduced risk of developing "myopia," or nearsightedness.
- A greater sense of appreciation and wonder of the diversity and beauty in nature.
- A development of personal identity as an integral member of the earth community and an environmental consciousness.
- Creation of both a sense of independence and interdependent with those whom they venture out in the natural world.
- The discovery of environments that are free, accessible, and healthy, environments that support them in feeling free, engaged, and calm.
In 2014, researchers from the University of Colorado teamed up with educators from Maryland and Colorado to study the effects that outdoor play in green spaces had on children. The study found that kids who play outside experience "peace away from stresses in the classroom and daily life."
If you are not already exploring the wild places in your area consider doing so. Get out while you can, and while your children still want to and have the time to spend with you!
Post by Lisa Brick
Co-founder of ACNJ
CPC, ELI-MP, L.Ac.
Please contact our office directly at 973-984-2800 to schedule an appointment with Lisa or any of our skilled practitioners at ACNJ.