MHspeaks to CBeebies presenter Andy Day on the importance of heading outdoors and exploring nature.
WORDS CHRISTEL GERALYN GOMES
In 1984, American biologist, theorist and author, Edward Wilson proposed a theory, which posited that human beings have a natural connection with nature and a tendency to seek out natural surroundings. Today, many parents – as they watch their children sit for hours glued to one screen or another – would have their doubts.
A Generation of Indoor Children
When I was growing up, playtime meant going outside and running around with the other kids from my neighbourhood. It meant creeping along the grass to spot and catch butterflies, climbing trees, bringing home caterpillars and swinging on the monkey bars in the playground. I got dirty – often – and ran daily in fields, throwing sticks for the dog to chase. Because we didn’t have a computer then, staying indoors just meant that I would be confined to reading and doing homework or chores. It seems so odd that today, little ones have to be forced to leave the couch, and that they are not friends with the neighbour’s children.
Unfortunately, this has become somewhat of a global phenomenon – and it has been given a name: “nature deficit disorder”, a phrased popularized by Richard Louv in his book, Last Child in the Woods, which discusses how the lack of time outdoors causes a wide range of behavioral problems in children today. Because outdoor time no longer seems to come naturally to our children, it is ever more important to mindfully set aside time for this as a family.
Benefits of Outdoor Exploration
Whether or not a lack of being outdoors truly causes behavioural problems, developmental experts unanimously agree that there is a whole range of benefits to be gleaned from regular time in nature.
For children in their early years, outdoor time promotes creativity and imagination because play is unstructured and children are able to interact meaningfully with an ever-changing natural landscape that stimulates all the senses.
Interacting with wildlife – even if it is just a stray cat, a butterfly or a garden snail – teaches the child
responsibility, empathy and compassion because living things are fragile and must be handled gently.
There is a level of spiritual development involved as well since natural landscapes awaken a child’s sense of wonder and an appreciation for beauty. Of course, it also gets the child moving, which is excellent for his or her health.
Is There a Right Time?
Andy Day, presenter of popular CBeebies TV shows such as Andy’s Baby Animals, Andy’s Wild Adventures and Andy’s Prehistoric Adventures – which recently premiered on BBC Player – is a definite advocate for getting out with your kids as early as possible. When asked how early is appropriate, he says, “Immediately. I think it’s really important, when the kid is a baby, or when he’s in his first year because they’re learning everything; colours, interaction, facial expressions, and different textures… I don’t think you can put age limits on having adventures outside. There’s nothing like touching a leaf and discovering how crispy it is or touching some bark or jumping around in puddles.”
Make Exploring the Outdoors a Great Adventure
Andy also encourages parents to try to make outdoor time as fun as possible. He says, “Try to make games out of things that are educational as well. Play a game of ‘spot the wildlife’. Say, ‘What birds can you see? What do the trees look like? Let’s play hide and seek – but you have to come back with three things you spotted along the way!’”
Andy believes that children learn through fun, so when
outdoor time is made to feel like a fun adventure, children “develop a
lot faster in my personal experience”.
He adds that there are great benefits to creating a sense of adventure in your children and there's nothing that can substitute for direct tactile experience. “You can find out anything on the internet but you don’t really know it till you’ve done it. So I just think it’s really important for kids in their development stages and even past that to just be out and about, doing different things,” he says.