Connecting Children with Nature

Nature Classroom flower

Nature Explore Center Elk River, MN

By Ms. Mary, ECFE Parent Educator

Forty three years have passed since the first Earth Day on April 22, 1970.  In that time, much has been written about our environment and the role of humans in it.  As an educator in the Early Childhood Family Education program, some of the most interesting information I have read has been about the importance of connecting children with nature.  When I was young, my friends and I spent numerous hours outdoors, exploring and creating.  In The Geography of Childhood, Gary Paul Nabhan and Stephen Trimble wrote, “It is quite possible for today’s child to grow up without ever having taken a solitary walk beside a stream, or spent the hours we used to, foraging for pine cones, leaves, feathers, and rocks—treasures more precious than store-bought ones.  Today it is difficult to tear children away from the virtual world of the mall to introduce them to the real one.”  As adults, most of us have memories of special places in nature from our childhoods.  Will our children have these same kinds of memories?

In one study, interviews done with children ages 4-9 found that when asked about things in nature like rain, wildflowers, trees, birds, etc., they expressed more fear and dread than enjoyment.  Other studies reveal numerous reasons why spending time in nature can be so important for our children:  the symptoms of children with ADHD are relieved after contact with nature; levels of aggression are significantly lower among people who have some kind of natural setting outside their homes; children who have regular experiences with the natural world show better coordination, balance and agility, more creativity, increased performance in math and science and higher skills in cooperative play and conflict resolution;  when children play outside, it doubles the amount of physical activity they get, which likely reduces obesity rates; exposure to nature in or around the home helps protect children from stress; time outdoors may actually help prevent allergies and asthma, which has increased 87% in children since 1982. Surprisingly, indoor levels of many pollutants may be two to five times higher than outdoor levels.

The studies confirm what common sense tells us:  spending time outside is good for both our physical and mental health.  Thomas Berry said, “Teaching children about the natural world should be treated as one of the most important events in their lives.”  As their children’s first and most important teachers, parents have the opportunity to give their children an inexpensive, yet invaluable gift by increasing their exposure to nature and their time spent outside.    In his book, Last Child in the Woods, Richard Louv describes the importance of saving our children from Nature-Deficit Disorder.  I encourage you to take the time to read about this modern-day phenomenon and his ideas for conquering it.  I also invite you to visit the Nature Explore Center at the Handke Center in Elk River.  I am certain that you and your children will enjoy the connection to nature that it offers.


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