How does nature affect a child’s development? The benefits of playing and learning in a natural environment

It is at times such as these when we perhaps appreciate outdoor spaces more than ever. They are often something that we take for granted and don’t consider until some of the places we enjoy visiting are closed. The last 12 months are certainly seen our lives change dramatically, and occasionally we may forget how important it is for a child’s development to spend time outdoors. Usually, this is in the form of play, but it can cover a wide variety of aspects of everyday life.

As a British international kindergarten in Bangkok, we have always acknowledged the importance of learning in a natural, outdoor environment. During our “normal” school day, outdoor play and activities are included as part of the daily routine with a balance of time spent learning inside and outside. The benefits of spending time playing and learning outdoors are well documented and proven to be beneficial for physical, emotional, social and intellectual development.

Physical Development Benefits

The physical development benefits of learning and playing outdoors are perhaps the most obvious and extensive of all the benefits, and this applies to children of all ages. It will impact a child’s weight, strength and coordination, and help improve the body’s immune system – something which is vital when it comes to fighting illnesses. Research has also shown that children who spend more time playing outdoors tend to be more physically active in adulthood, which has several health benefits. Some of the other physical benefits include:

1. Motor Skills

Outdoor play and learning develop enhanced motor skills, including balance and coordination. By giving children the freedom to run around, climb and burn off excess energy, they will naturally become more confident and, as such, be willing to put their physical abilities to the test. In turn, this will further enhance their agility and strength, which, of course, has significant health benefits for them both now and in the future.

2. Lower Body Weight and BMI

In western countries, around a third of all children are now considered obese, a frightening statistic we are sure you would agree, especially when in 1980, the figure was approximately 7%. The main reason for this is because children spend an increased amount of time indoors doing more sedentary activities such as playing video games or watching TV. Not surprisingly, a study revealed a direct correlation between BMI and the amount of physical activity which a child takes part in. 

Obesity in children can have numerous health implications and these bad habits tend to continue throughout the child’s life leading to premature health issues.

3. Improved General Wellbeing

As we have touched upon above, obesity increases the risk of serious health complications such as cardiovascular disease, diabetes and sleep apnea – all potentially life-threatening conditions. In addition, humans require vitamin D, which is mainly derived from exposure to sunlight and is known to strengthen the immune system and improve moods. Besides these perhaps more obvious benefits, with an increasing number of children who have ADHD, play and learning outdoors help sufferers burn off excess energy which can build-up if the sufferer is pent up indoors.

4. Improved Muscles Strength and Balance 

In a child’s formative years, it is vital that they start to build muscles and muscle balance. It is particularly relevant in younger children who can build necessary core strength from something as simple as sitting in a swing. Older children can also improve muscle strength by riding bikes and skateboarding. Not only does this build core strength, but it also enhances muscle balance as a variety of muscle groups will be used. In turn, this improves coordination and balance.  

Emotional Development Benefits

Children who play outdoors more frequently are thought to be stronger emotionally and have better cognitive skills than children who spend more time inside. These children tend to be more adaptable and independent, which will stand them in good stead in school and when they finally enter the workplace. There are a couple of main reasons for this:

1. They Use All Five Sense

Children who spend most of their time playing video games or watching TV will focus primarily on just two sense, vision and hearing. Children who play outdoors will also experience these senses and have an increased awareness of smell, touch and, quite often, taste such as when they taste the rain on their tongue. Younger children who are exposed to more sensory experiences are generally better equipped to grow and develop emotionally.  

2. Increases Self-Confidence 

Self-confidence is something which we all need from being a child until we are elderly. Children who play outdoors will develop a greater sense of independence, and with it, they will be able to build their confidence by trying new things. Freedom to try something without feeling like their parents are watching their every move will encourage them to take risks, although it should be stressed that the risk-taking should be within reason.

Children who are prepared to challenge themselves by climbing monkey bars or seeing how high they can jump are normally more confident, independent, and more emotionally balanced.

Social Development Benefits

Outdoor learning and play are believed to have a massive influence on the social development of a child due to their increased interactions with other people. Experts believe there are several key benefits, such as:

1. Increased Openness

In confined areas such as in a classroom or inside the home, children often find that they need to compete with siblings and classmates for attention. It can lead to noise levels increasing which younger children, in particular, may find intimidating. As such, they may become more withdrawn and quiet, which can prevent them from opening up about their feelings to parents, teachers and other caregivers. Many children find an outdoor environment less overwhelming, making them more willing to discuss their feelings and thoughts with others around them.

2. Heightened Self-Awareness

In has been noted that kids who spend more time outdoors are far more aware of their surroundings, enhancing their observation and reasoning skills. In an outdoor environment, children can often see things from another perspective, which helps them appreciate “cause and effect”. They will become more aware of space and what happens when adults push and encourage them.

3. Better Relationships with Peers

Improved self-awareness tends to naturally lead to a greater awareness of others. They become aware of other people’s feelings from a younger age and are less likely to be bullies or be bullied themselves, which is often attributed to increased self-confidence. Outdoor play usually involves greater use of their imagination than video games, for example, which helps with their communication skills and interactions with other children. This means that the children have more common ground and are happier playing with one another.

4. Greater Respect for the Environment

Children who play outside often develop a love for nature and the environment. The main reason for this is that they spend a significant amount of their time and develop firsthand knowledge of the plants and animals around them. They will have seen plants, perhaps even sown some themselves as well as seeing animals in their natural environment. Generally, children show more compassion and respect for things that they value, and outdoor spaces are places that they grow to love and appreciate.

Intellectual Development Benefits

Classroom learning obviously has a significant impact on a child’s intellectual development, but outdoor play can be equally beneficial in younger children. There are several reasons for this, including:

1. Aiding Brain Development

As we touched upon above, playing outside encourages children to use their imagination as they will be required to invent their own forms of “play”. It will increase their sense of independence and self-confidence, leading to improved decision-making skills and an ability to organise themselves and others. Inventing games with peers will help with problem-solving and the development of ideas. As the child gets older, they will learn why rules are needed and why you should follow those rules.

2. Improved Communication Skills

Playing outdoors increases the chances of interaction with other children beyond their regular friendship groups. It will help them make new friends and mix with children of different ages, which will help them develop a new range of skills and interests. For younger children, parents may need to play an active role in encouraging their child to mix with others, but as they get older, they can arrange to meet friends without assistance.

3. Larger Learning Space

Using the same educational materials outdoors gives them more scope as they can be used in different ways. Students will understand that they can learn anywhere and not be restricted by the walls of the classroom. Keeping the score in a game will help them learn about numbers and basic arithmetic; something which will be useful throughout their lives.

Did you find our article interesting?

We hope this article gave you insight into how child are happy learning in a natural environment and how outdoor learning and play can benefit a child. At Kidz Village, we believe in helping all our students to develop in every respect and firmly believe that spending more time outdoors is an excellent way of achieving this. For more information, please call us on +66 2888 3337 or contact us directly via our website.