5 ways my kids change when they spend time in nature

Posted 01/05/2017 in Life with a toddler

We have two boys, ages four and two, and we figured out very early on that our extremely high energy, independent, rule breaking now-four-year-old was right in his element when we took him out into the wilderness and let him be as loud, fast and intense as he needs to be. Our family is lucky to live in a town that is surrounded by interesting Australian bushland. We don't have many tourist destinations or structured visitor areas, we simply go out and see what we can discover for ourselves.

By the time our littlest boy came along, exploring out in nature had become such a normal, regular part of our lives that he was born into life as a little adventurer.

I saw a post on facebook the other day saying "boys cannot bounce off the walls... if we take away the walls" and it has certainly worked for our family! Spending time in nature has so many noticeable benefits for my boys that I thought I'd share five of my favourites...

1. They get along

When my boys get out into nature they instantly forget about any sibling rivalry or disagreements they have and become instant partners in crime as they explore, run, jump, get messy and be as wild as they like. 

Nature play is so good for their relationship. It gives them regular time where they can truly enjoy each other's company. They encourage and support each other as they jump in mud puddles, build little houses out of sticks and stones, navigate creek beds and climb giant rocks. 

At home they regularly fight over toys, do things to irritate each other for fun and have shouting matches. Out exploring together in nature? The closest friends you'd ever meet.

2. They get creative

99% of the time we don't bring toys with us on our trips out into the bush. Most the time we don't go to structured park areas, picnic areas or nature attractions either. We just find a good looking spot out in the bush, we pull over and pile out of the car, and the boys do whatever they want. 

Sometimes they do all the physical things like jump in puddles, play with sticks, dig holes, balance on fallen trees, climb hills and clamber through gullies, throw things, feel plants and search for insects. Other times it's all about their imaginations and they create their own games together where a tree becomes a shop, a fallen log becomes a bed, stones become money, leaves become sandwiches and fallen branches become trailers they drag along behind them. 

By going out into nature we are giving them the chance to practice and embrace unstructured play. There is no play equipment, no toys and no technology to entertain them. If they want to play, they have to find or create something to play with. They certainly have no trouble doing that, and it really influences the way they play at home as well. They are very good at independent play and overcoming boredom on their own.

3. They explore, experiment and enquire

Nature exploration turns my kids into little scientists. They are examining everything, smelling leaves, feeling dirt, picking up interesting stones and twigs, touching different types of bark on the trees, hunting for frogs and insects, and they are always asking questions! When they discover interesting things out in the bush, we discuss it for days.

A few months ago we were digging a little hole and my 4 year old couldn't dig any further because there was a root in his way. That root certainly played on his mind! He brought the subject of the root up randomly while we were eating or driving. He asked, when digging new holes, if he might find another root that would stop him from digging any further. If I told him we couldn't go out and dig at that moment he asked if it was because there would be another root in the way... We talked over and over about what the root was doing there, what the purpose of the root was and what plant it might have come from. 

More recently he found a spiders egg on a fence. He asked me why the spiders kept their babies inside the egg and I told him it was to keep them safe as they grew. He regularly asks me, out of nowhere, to elaborate on why spiders keep their babies safe inside eggs. He makes little caves under his blanket and tells me he is a spider and he's growing some babies in there and keeping them safe. He tells his little brother all about the spider eggs while they play.

Playing in nature gives kids countless new experiences and discoveries to ponder over and ask questions about. It really does stimulate their minds so much more than playing outdoors on playgrounds, slides and swings.

4. They get dirty

Dirt is so good for kids' immune systems! The health benefits of my kids getting dirty far outweigh any inconvenience it may cause to me.

And oh boy, do they get dirty! Mud is their absolute favourite and I try to remember to bring a towel and spare clothes for our boys every time we go out into nature. We have to make sure we have enough pairs of shoes so that when one pair is in the wash and another pair is drying, they still have a few extra pairs of clean shoes ready to go. I've finally wised up and now keep a large plastic tub in the back of our car to keep muddy or dirty clothes in for the drive home (I used to use plastic bags, which were often leaky and couldn't be re-used because they got so dirty).

It doesn't take long to get used to hauling a couple of dusty, soggy or muddy kids home, and it doesn't seem like a bother at all. We simply strip em off, towel them down, chuck on some fresh clothes and buckle them into the car. Wet clothes and shoes are tossed into the tub in the back and away we go.

5. They become more content

This one is everything! There is such a profound difference in their attitudes at home when they have been spending a lot of time exploring outdoors. They are more happy to go off and play together, they aren't demanding as much attention, they don't get in moods as often where they are easily upset and frustrated, they sleep better, they get along better and they just seem so content!

Whether you can make it out into nature daily, weekly or even monthly, any amount of time spent exploring outdoors is going to be hugely beneficial for your children. What are your children's favourite things to do outdoors? Let us know in the comments below.




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