Buttercup Learning
February 10, 2022

10 ways nature boosts children’s mental health

In the UK, the average child spends 32 hours each week staring at a screen. Meanwhile, according to research from Persil’s Dirt is Good campaign, 74% of kids spend less than 1 hour playing outdoors each day.  This means three-quarters of…

In the UK, the average child spends 32 hours each week staring at a screen. Meanwhile, according to research from Persil’s Dirt is Good campaign, 74% of kids spend less than 1 hour playing outdoors each day. 

This means three-quarters of UK children spend less time outdoors than prison inmates. Pretty shocking, right?

Experts suggest time spent playing outside has shrunk dramatically due to digital technology, parents’ fears of strangers, traffic and accidents and a lack of green spaces.

But active play in nature is essential to the development, mental health and wellbeing of children.

“The truth is, we are enclosing our children,” said Mark Sears, at The Wild Network, which promotes wild play. “We are stifling their ability to be free, to be at their best as children and it is having significant impacts.” 

This Children’s Mental Health Week we thought we’d share some of the powerful ways outdoor play can build our children into stronger, happier individuals, and how you can help your kids reap nature’s incredible mental health benefits!

Here’s 10 ways getting kids climbing trees (not the walls!) and playing outside, will benefit their mind, body and future!

A young girl explores leaves and ripples in a stream.

Photo by Kelly Sikkema on Unsplash

It builds resilience.

Being overprotective can harm children. 

Getting dirty and facing nature’s physical obstacles helps children build independence and resilience. So allowing kids to play freely in nature provides them with opportunities to overcome physical and emotional challenges, helping them to grow stronger.

The Children Nature Network – an organization committed to increasing safe and equitable access to nature for children – categorizes outdoor play as “Risky Play”. They argue that this “thrill of uncertainty” which nature offers is hugely important to social health, resilience and exploration!

It encourages creativity.

Children are more creative when exposed to nature. This is because their senses and imaginations become stimulated by a vast plethora of sights, textures, sounds, smells. 

Roaming around in woods and parks is a great way for children to participate in unstructured play too – essential for nurturing creativity. 

It develops teamwork skills.

Outdoor play is important for helping children to develop important social skills like teamwork. 

From building dens to playing sport, outdoor group activities promote collaboration and a regard for the feelings and safety of others.

Two children dressed in waterproof clothing build a stick den in the woods

Photo by Markus Spiske on Unsplash 

It builds self esteem.

According to a survey conducted on 450 schoolchildren by the Wildlife Trusts in 2019, after participating in outdoor activities:

  • 84% of children felt they were capable of doing new things when they tried 
  • 79% of children reported feeling more confident in themselves

This is just one of numerous studies which show the powerful effect of outdoor play on children’s self confidence!

It lowers anxiety.

Nature has a calming effect on children – especially those prone to anxiety, hyper-activity or restlessness. 

Dr Mathew White from the University of Exeter argued even a brief 10 minutes of wind on our cheeks, or the sun on our skin – can lower stress in children. 

It helps them connect and belong.

All humans have a deep need to belong and connect to the environment they are in. 

Giving children the opportunity to explore their natural environment surrounding their home helps create a sense of belonging.

It supports learning.

Time in nature is proven to improve children’s concentration. One report by Public Health England states “pupils with better health and well-being are likely to achieve better academically.” 

Free from the constraints of the classroom, challenging behaviour, hyperactivity and restlessness are reduced in children after time spent exercising outdoors.

It builds an understanding of the natural world.

Spending time exploring nature, like touching  soil or observing the buds and roots of trees, builds children’s understanding of science and earth’s systems. 

Experiencing weather, seasons, wildlife and plants first hand, in a multi-sensory way, is incredibly important for children to learn and develop – not everything can be taught from a textbook!

A little boy in jeans and a top, waters the raised vegetable bed with a large metal watering can.

Photo by Filip Urban on Unsplash

It improves physical health and immunity.

Exercising and being physically active outdoors is fundamental for a child’s physical health – reducing their likelihood of obesity and illness. This in turn has a powerful effect on children’s mental health.  

It promotes environmentally responsible behaviour.

Spending time in woods, gardens and allotments helps children understand their responsibility to the earth. Activities such as gardening – like watering and tending to seedlings, not only gives children an insight into how the natural world works but emphasises the importance of nurture and respect for other organisms. 

As you can see, spending time outside each day has a tremendously beneficial effect on the lifelong health and happiness of a child.  

So, as parents, teachers and carers we all have a responsibility to ensure kids are getting enough contact with nature and the outdoors.

Understanding just how important and diverse the effects of prolonged nature play has on children is the first step toward permanently implementing it into our children’s lives.

We hope you found this article useful and informative!

Let us know if you have any questions or reflections! Contact us on Instagram.

The Buttercup Team









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