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Young children have a natural curiosity about the environment. The natural world offers so much opportunity for exploration, it improves cognitive abilities and increases physical activity, motor functioning and coordination in children.

Studies show that today’s children are less active outdoors and spend significantly less time in nature than prior generations. Urbanisation and increasing safety concerns has been blamed for limiting the opportunity for children to interact with the natural environment, with the lack of exposure impacting the health and wellbeing of children.

Research has found that an affinity to the natural environment grows out of children’s regular contact with, and play in, the natural world. If children are not afforded the opportunity to connect with nature, how then can we ensure sustainability can be carried into the future?

Establishing an emotional connection with the world from an early age will assist children in developing respect for the natural environment. It’s never too early to begin teaching our children to care about the world. By encouraging children to to develop an appreciation for nature, we can teach children to love the world and live kindly within it—to be an active part of the solution in preventing the loss of the natural environment.

Ideas to help our children connect with nature include:

  1. Encourage play with open-ended natural resources – these can include sticks, logs, rocks, branches, leaves, bark and other elements found in nature.
  2. Allow your children to take risks – varied and diverse landscapes assist in building motor development, such as balance and coordination.
  3. Recycle as many materials as possible and encourage your children to find creative uses for them.
  4. Introduce simple sustainable practices at home – turn of the tap while brushing teeth, switch off the lights, introduce a compost bin.
  5. Lead by example

References

Clements, R (2004) – An Investigation of the Status of Outdoor Play. Contemporary Issues in Early Childhood, 5 (1).

Fjortoft, I and Jostein, S (2000) – The natural environment as a playground for children. Landscape and Urban Planning, 48 (1), 83-97.

Wells, N.M (2000) – At home with nature: effects of ‘greenness’ on children’s cognitive functioning. Environment and Behavior, 32, 775-795.

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