It’s important to note before reading on that I am certainly not anti-screen time. Neiva loves her iPad. She plays games and watches programmes and videos. Although we don’t have a TV in our living room, we do have a TV upstairs in our bedroom where we enjoy many wonderful family movie nights.
That said, if Neiva does have too much screen time, there are definite changes in her behaviour. Contrast this with where she chooses to spend most of her time, outside, and she is a much calmer and more cooperative child.
We are fortunate to live in an area where (despite living in a noisy little town) we can within minutes easily access a quiet park, take a walk in a local woodland, in a field surrounded by rolling hills and bird song, by a stream, anywhere where we can escape from car horns, percussive drilling and those obnoxiously loud mopeds (a particular pet peeve of mine).
“Children cannot bounce off the walls if we take away the walls.” – Erin K. Kenny, Forest Kindergartens: The Cedarsong Way
I have just finished reading a brilliant book written by a man named Richard Louv who coined the phrase “nature deficit disorder”. His book, The Last Child In The Woods is a frightening read into how children today have lost touch with nature. In his book he relates a story. He was talking to a group of parents who were expressing concern about how their children’s childhood is vastly different to their own.
One man in the group, a quiet father raised in a farming community spoke up and said: “where I grew up a person was naturally outdoors all the time. No matter which direction you went, you were outdoors, in a plowed field, a wood or a stream. Now the park we grew up in is a metropolitan area. Kids haven’t lost anything because they never had it in the first place. What we are talking about here is a transition made by most of us who grew up surrounded by nature. Now nature is just not there anymore”. (The Last Child In The Woods, Richard Louv: page 12)
That sentence stopped me dead in my tracks and I had to read it again! As a child growing up in the 80’s I do remember playing outside for hours with my brothers and sister. Having to be called in when it got dark, my brothers regularly playing in a nearby wood. But Neiva’s generation may never even have those memories. How can they miss something they have never had?
So what are the benefits of playing in nature? The list is exhaustive. However, I read an article by the Child Mind Institute written by Danielle Cohen which beautifully sums up the most important reasons. The following list is taken from her article:
It builds confidence. The way that kids play in nature has a lot less structure than most types of indoor play. There are infinite ways to interact with outdoor environments, from the backyard to the park to the local hiking trail or lake, and letting your child choose how he treats nature means he has the power to control his own actions.
It promotes creativity and imagination. This unstructured style of play also allows kids to interact meaningfully with their surroundings. They can think more freely, design their own activities, and approach the world in inventive ways.
It teaches responsibility. Living things die if mistreated or not taken care of properly, and entrusting a child to take care of the living parts of their environment means they’ll learn what happens when they forget to water a plant, or pull a flower out by its roots.
It provides different stimulation. Nature may seem less stimulating than your son’s violent video game, but in reality, it activates more senses—you can see, hear, smell, and touch outdoor environments. “As the young spend less and less of their lives in natural surroundings, their senses narrow,” Louv warns, “and this reduces the richness of human experience.”
It gets kids moving. Most ways of interacting with nature involve more exercise than sitting on the couch. Your kid doesn’t have to be joining the local soccer team or riding a bike through the park—even a walk will get her blood pumping. Not only is exercise good for kids’ bodies, but it seems to make them more focused, which is especially beneficial for kids with ADHD.
It makes them think. Louv says that nature creates a unique sense of wonder for kids that no other environment can provide. The phenomena that occurs naturally in backyards and parks everyday make kids ask questions about the earth and the life that it supports.
It reduces stress and fatigue. According to the Attention Restoration Theory, urban environments require what’s called directed attention, which forces us to ignore distractions and exhausts our brains. In natural environments, we practice an effortless type of attention known as soft fascination that creates feelings of pleasure, not fatigue.
We have experienced this first hand with Neiva. Learning and being immersed in nature is an essential part of childhood. So whilst screen time does have its place in today’s world, it also needs to know its place.