As keen visitors queued to see the ‘Back to Nature Garden’, co-designed by HRH the Duchess of Cambridge, at the RHS Chelsea Flower Show, a very welcome spotlight shone on the importance of outdoor play for children. Like most, my 4 and 6 year olds are growing up in a world of extreme technology – there are screens everywhere- kids can easily get sucked in to watching the telly or playing on an iPad or console for hours at a time and shifting them can involve brute force and temper tantrums (and feel like more effort than it’s worth!) I am not anti-telly and I am pro-technology – I think you have to be if you want your kids to have the skills they will need to succeed in an adult world where the technology hasn’t been invented yet. Still, we have always tried to moderate what the kids watch and how much screen time they have.
Luckily, my Little Londoners love nothing more than being in the great outdoors. They are very content collecting bits and bobs for a nature collage, gathering fallen petals to make ‘perfume’, or poking things with a stick. Outdoor play is not only a fun way to spend time together, experts suggest that it is essential for good outcomes in later life. Playing outside, interacting with nature, climbing trees, making dens and poking about under rocks teaches children how to take risks and make decisions, it builds confidence and resilience. A ‘Green Exercise’ study in 2010 ‘found that just 5 minutes outside considerably boosts self-esteem and sense of well-being’- and children benefit the most from being outside. On the RHS Back to Nature Garden, the Duchess said: ‘I believe that spending time outdoors when we are young can play a role in laying the foundations for children to become happy, healthy adults’ and I couldn’t agree more!
Lots of our free time is spent walking, playing, scooting in parks, woodland, countryside and the coast. We go on imaginative adventures through snake-infested jungles, trying to name the plants and leaves as we go and collecting samples for rubbings and arts and crafts. The Duchess has collaborated with the RHS to create a set of Back to Nature Activity Cards that you can print at home. They are excellent! Very simple, cost next to nothing, and kids will absolutely love the activities. I have some double-sided tape somewhere, so we’ll definitely be making the leaf wand. Find the resource here.
The positive benefits of outdoor play are recognised far and wide; you’ll find nature to play in and ‘natural’ play areas all over the place. Some of our favourites include: * The woodland and natural play spaces at National Trust properties * Kew Gardens is always a great adventure and now the new Children’s Garden is open too (as of May 2019) * Oasis Play in Stockwell is a magic little garden and is excellent for children with disabilities and additional needs. * My kids are Nature Detectives with the Woodland Trust. Use the search function to find woodland near you.
Another benefit of outdoor play is that it needn’t cost a penny. We often pack a picnic, grab our wellies and waterproofs and go off in search of adventure armed only with a stick and a flower crown!
Wherever you play, enjoy!Amy x