“Go and play outside!” was the catch-cry of mums across Australia in decades past, but as technology, hectic schedules and lack of outside space continue to impede on boys’ play time the constant call has become more of a passing comment.
Researchers and delegates from around the world have been in Perth this weekend to discuss the importance of nature play for children and the effects playing outdoors can have on a child’s physical and mental well-being now and into the future.
Keynote speaker at the Children and Nature conference and Canadian naturopath and health researcher Alan Logan said scientists were yet to pinpoint why children benefit from outdoor play but it could primarily lead to increased mood and realisation of physical activity.
“Children who have access to quality green space are more likely to be physically active and have social interactions,”Mr Logan said.
“Your connection to nature established early in life to your experiences can actually influence life wellbeing. And this is not just one or two studies, there have been several studies combined that have clearly shown this connection,” he said.
He said one of the key connections to nature in early life was how it related to empathy, building on a child’s ability to understand and take on another person’s perspective. He added that losing nature play and time outdoors risked the loss of experience and knowledge among children.
“The risk is extinction of experience, of forgetting what once was. That is really what it comes down to. As we lose that time outside, there will be other things that take its place; maybe it’s more screen time and indoor time.”
“We know what nature does — it induces awe and optimism and a sense of wonder.”
Fellow presenter UWA professor of paediatrics and Telethon KIDS Institute associate director of research Susan Prescott said a child’s relationships with nature influenced the biodiversity of their body.
Prof. Prescott said changes to external environments, including the amount of time spent outdoors has had ramifications on the gut health and wellbeing of children.
“Our relationship with nature influences the biodiversity of our bodies; the soil, the air we breathe. When children go outside, they are constantly coming into contact with friendly microbes we know are important for stimulating and developing the immune system, so reduced green space and reduced biodiversity contact may increase immune disease, particularly allergies,” she said.
She said a decline in outdoor time also had implications for a range of other diseases and highlighted how “things are interconnected in ways we hadn’t expected before.”
“It’s important we think about it, particularly for children because there is an early window of opportunity when they are first establishing the ecological system on their bodies.”