Thinking back to your childhood, exploring the great outdoors was probably a large part of it. Before long, you soon learned the names of a dozen plants and trees, what you’re not supposed to eat and what to feed wild animals, if anything.
But today’s kids don’t have the same exposure to nature. In fact, they may lead such secluded lives that they’re better able to identify fictitious characters on the TV, like Daleks, than real birds, like owls. The latest data suggests that the distance children stray from the home while playing has declined by more than 90 percent, making this the first generation in the history of humanity not to have a direct connection with nature while they are young.
The question for parents is: does it matter? It turns out that it does. Scientists aren’t so bothered about kids lack of knowledge about nature. What they are concerned about is their lack of experience of it.
Humans evolved in nature. For millions of years, we rolled around in the dirt, quite literally. As a result, we actually need the natural environment to feel healthy and happy. Experts from a range of disciplines, including psychology, public health and education have all come out of the woodwork recently to lament the fact that children aren’t in nature and it’s affecting them in important ways.
There are a number of problems, as they see it. The first is that children are actually getting weaker. Being outside and playing in nature is a great way to improve one’s strength. But according to recent investigations, the grip strength of five-year-old children is significantly less than it was a generation ago. Thanks to the fact that most kids interact with tablet devices and computers requiring no physical strength at all, their wrists and hands haven’t developed any significant muscle. Scientists worry that this early lack of muscle will set them up for early-onset frailty later in life.
The next problem is the effect on the microbiome. Recent advances in science have shown that the microbiome is incredibly important for childhood health. It determines a lot, from their risk of developing obesity to their ability to resist infection. But because kids aren’t in nature or eating enough healthy food, their guts aren’t being seeded with beneficial bacteria in the environment. The result is sickly children that are at higher risk of metabolic diseases.
Finally, there’s the psychological effect that being in nature has. Being in nature is essential for happiness and well-being and can have a calming effect within minutes.
So what can parents do? One option is to literally move the whole family out of the house and into nature. You could go camping, build your own log cabin using instruction sites like Build Log Homes or go on a wilderness tour. Being outside needs to be a regular thing for children, and so building it into holidays and other times of the year when everybody has the time to be outside is essential.
Spend some time thinking about how you could get your children to spend more time outside. It’ll make a massive difference to their development.