Long gone are the childhood days of playing outside from dawn until dusk that we all remember. The days when we explored the forest, built forts, and collected insects hold some of our fondest memories, yet today’s children are spending half the time outside than children did twenty years ago. Studies have also shown that children who have unstructured play outside are more creative, less aggressive, and have a better attention-span than children who do not (Burdette and Whitaker).
Providing time for unstructured play in nature provides children the opportunity to connect to the world in ways that can be done no other way. They are able to experience the fragility and stability of the living things around them. By playing in nature, they also begin to see themselves as part of the natural world, and children who play more in nature grow to be better stewards of the environment (Wells and Lekies, 2006).
Children also develop in many ways through play in nature. They develop cognitively through problem-solving while doing things like climbing a tree or getting across a puddle. Physical development grows as they balance on a log, run on uneven ground, and catch frogs. Even emotional growth takes place, as children do things like patiently wait while fishing or while learning to care for the plants and animals around them.
Today’s parents have the ease of technology to contend with. Children often come home from school and want to sit in front of the TV, computer, or iPad to be entertained. We should instead send them outside, where they can find themselves engulfed in a game far superior to the one on the Wii: Their imaginations.