In the past, playing outside in nature was a part of everyday, normal childhood experience. Many of us have fond memories of time spent outdoors riding our bikes around the neighbourhood, swinging from the clothesline, climbing trees, playing backyard games of cricket or soccer that spilled out onto the street, picking fruit straight from homegrown trees, camping, bushwalking and picnics in our beautiful national parks.
Children today are increasingly unable to relate to these experiences. In fact, ACT children are spending less time outside in nature than at any other time in our history. In the space of just one generation, there has been a dramatic shift in childhood activity from outdoors to indoors driven by a number of factors including the advent of new screen-based technologies and the emergence of a risk-averse culture.
This has far-reaching consequences for our community. In parallel with the shift indoors we are seeing increasing rates of childhood obesity, depression and behavioural disorders.
Research across the world supports the view that unstructured outdoor play is fundamental to childhood. Opportunities for outdoor play and immersion in nature are essential to the health and wellbeing of children, helping them to develop to their full potential.
Participation in nature play has the ability to enhance children’s cognitive flexibility and creativity, boost self-esteem and improve resilience. ‘Nature play’ includes any unstructured play outdoors such as riding a bike, climbing a tree, gardening, bushwalking and swimming at the beach.
Nature play is, of itself, an intrinsic good and from it flow benefits in health, cognitive, social and emotional development and in the building of resilience and creativity. Experience in nature as a child also leads to ‘natural activism’, sometimes known as environmental stewardship, later in life.