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She’s sitting outside in the grass, playing with her Barbies. The November sun shines off her golden-white hair. Her body is grounded to the Earth’s electricity. Her skin is soaking up vitamin D. She is playing alone, which is a wonderful new advancement for this 3-year-old. She helps the Barbies dig at the Earth and is experiencing the wonderful, magnificent world of imagination. 

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I’ve been thinking a lot about the importance of kids exploring the outside lately. It seems to be taking over my mind, and the more I’ve researched it, the more important it has proven to be.

One excellent study was conducted in Portugal found that these three things contributed greatly to learning and development:

1. Contact with natural elements

Nature is a wonderland of ever-changing scenery as the weather and seasons change, as bugs crawl around, and birds fly overhead… there is always something changing outside to capture kids’ minds. It is also a source of “open-ended materials”, such as rocks, sticks, bodies of water, bark, lichen, moss, dirt, and leaves. These materials can have numerous uses assigned to them. Sticks can be people. Rocks can be cars. Moss can be a ladybug’s bed. This helps kids develop creativity, thinking outside the box, and problem solving skills. 

 

2. Importance of risk

Our culture is so safety conscious, it’s starting the feel like we should bubble-wrap our kids to keep them from ALL danger. While the job of parent is to keep your kid from danger, we cannot insulate them from all pain. Risk-taking is a important part of the human experience. Kids need the stress of risk and the joy of achievement. According to the study, risky play promotes persistence, entrepreneurship, self-knowledge, and problem solving. Know your kid and what they can and can’t do physically. Teach them to trust their instincts and assess their own risk, for example, say, “Do you think you are able to climb that tree? Climb slowly and if you feel unsafe, don’t go any higher!” This teaches them to listen to their senses and make their own decisions, and of course you are standing by to help them if they get in a pickle. 

 

 

3. Socialization opportunities

When kids are in a natural environment, they are faced with challenges and risk, which is a good opportunity to learn a variety of social skills with other kids. They can work together to build a stick fort or help another kid climb on a log. I also feel like kids are more verbal when they are outside, and more likely to talk and exchange ideas with their siblings or friends. 

As I’ve said before, being outdoors is very important to our family, especially as we prepare to live in a tiny house. Our house will be small, but their “playroom” will be very, very large.

If you have a habit of letting your kids interact with nature, good work! It will pay off in so many ways. Childhood is for play and so is the outdoors. I feel such a concern for the modern kid, made to sit for so many hours each day and snatched away from nature.

Now, as I look out the window, her older sister and brother have joined her and they have a grand spread of Barbies in the grass. True to the research, they are engaged with the changeable outdoors as they move around grass and dirt, they are imagining, and they are building their social skills as they work together to make a good home for their Barbies. Soon they will be adults with worries and heartaches, but for today, they are kids and they are playing.

 

 

For more reading on this subject…

This scientific study is very intriguing.

This book is excellent. It’s probably the best book I’ve ever read:

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