How to get your children engaged with nature

January 29, 2024

Encouraging children and teenagers to become more engaged with nature offers a host of genuine benefits. Aside from the obvious advantages of getting them to spend less time gazing at screens, promoting time in nature has some important advantages.  In this article, we discuss how to get your children more engaged with nature, why it is beneficial and some tips on getting started.


Why it is important for children and teens to spend time outdoors

Spending time in nature is hugely beneficial for children and teenagers. Play and activities in a natural environment are less structured than indoor activities and tend to encourage creativity, imagination and spontaneity. It’s proven that being in nature has benefits for our mental health. With so much of our children’s day to day spent in a classroom or looking at a screen, nature offers the chance to disengage from technology and improve overall wellbeing.

Nowadays, young people suffer a lack of ‘being in nature’ – so much so that it even has a name! Nature deficit disorder. There is a growing body of scientific evidence showing that lack of time spent outdoors can lead to a wide range of behavioural problems. Spending all of our time inside can heavily impact our mood and general wellbeing so it has never been more important to encourage our young people to embrace the outdoors.

What are the benefits of nature for children?

There are several benefits for children (and adults!) that come from spending time in nature. These include:

🏃‍♀️ Movement: Interacting with nature means we are naturally moving more. We don’t have to force our kids to scale the highest mountain in Ireland or start cross country running. A brisk walk in nature is enough to help them reap the benefits. Not only is the exercise good for their cardiovascular health, it has a host of mental health benefits too.

🧘 Focus: Helpful for all young people, but especially those with ASD, spending time in nature can help restore focus and reduce the stress and mental fatigue brought about by spending too much time indoors or in an urban environment. Too much time in a city or town can be exhausting for the brain (our brains exercise what’s called ‘directed attention’ when it is forced to ignore an overload of information – it’s a necessary process but can be very tiring). Time in nature allows us to pay effortless attention to our surroundings which can lead to feelings of pleasure as opposed to fatigue.

💡 Stimulation: Nature provides stimulation for all the senses. When a young person is outside enjoying nature, they can see, hear, feel and smell what’s around them. It can be an enriching experience for the senses and one which brings many benefits.

🙋 Responsibility: Spending time on outdoor activities can teach children and young people a sense of responsibility. Taking care of plants or crops, engaging with animals, building a safe campfire or shelter can help children learn about safe and responsible practices and that caring (or not caring) for living things has consequences.

😊 Confidence: Unstructured outdoor play can do wonders for a child’s confidence. Allowing them to take the lead gives the child autonomy and helps build confidence and self-esteem. Outdoor play also helps children become aware of limits and boundaries.

👩‍🎨 Creativity and skills: Playing outdoors helps offer children the opportunity to try new activities, invent new ways of playing and engage with their peers. It also encourages them to learn problem solving and can develop resilience.


How to get your children more engaged with nature

Getting your children engaged with nature doesn’t have to be difficult or complicated. In fact, it can be quite easy to start small. Begin with a nature walk in your local area. You might plan a simple scavenger hunt (‘Lets see how many birds, squirrels or insects we can find’). You might plant a small nature garden or even a fairy garden! Using some simple tools you find outside, you could build a basic sundial, construct a hotel for bees, build a hedgehog shelter or even collect different leaves to make rubbings. All of these simple activities can open a dialogue about nature where your child can ask questions and exercise their curiosity. Even something as simple as outlining your shadows in chalk can start a conversation about the position of the sun during different parts of the day.

The most important thing is to make a start and show children that nature is to be enjoyed.

If you’d like to help your child learn more about nature and learn some bushcraft skills along the way, Cavan Adventure Centre is hosting two Woodlands School Bushcraft Camps in February. One, on February 14th, is aimed at teenagers aged 13 to 16 and the second, on February 16th is for younger children aged 8 to 12. The cost is €35 per child for a full day.