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In a brilliant TEDx Talk, the head of the National Wildlife Federation presented unique insight on the importance of nature play in early childhood for both kids and our planet. He pointed out that in today’s world, the average kid spends 40 to 50 hours per week on some sort of screen. When you factor in their other daily tasks including school, structured activities, and sleep, this leaves very little time for unstructured outdoor play. So, most children only get about 25 minutes of unstructured play per week.

The fact is, not only is a lack of outdoor play hurting our children, but it’s also hurting wildlife and the world we live in. Kids need to experience and interact with nature to build respect and love for our planet.

The Dire Condition of Wildlife

The amount of wildlife present in North America has been reduced by about 60% over the last 40 years. According to Collin O’Mara, head of the National Wildlife Federation, about 150 species have gone extinct over the last 100 years, and there are another 500 species that are simply missing.

The scary thing is that one-third of all our species are at risk of going extinct within our lifetimes, with 20% of those being at an increased risk. As the population continues to rise, so does the risk for species of wildlife. These risks are caused not only by habitat destruction but also climate change and the introduction of both invasive diseases and species.

5 Benefits of Nature Play for Children

It’s said that children who spend more time in nature and with wildlife have better brain and overall development. In other words, they grow to be more well-rounded people. While there are many benefits of nature play for children, let’s take a look at the top ways:

Provides Physical Activity

As we mentioned, children are spending more time than ever behind a screen each day. This is causing kids to become too sedentary. While 20 or 30 minutes of daily structured nature play is a start, providing them with 60 minutes of unstructured physical activity out in nature is even better.

Promotes Imagination and Creativity

Studies have shown kids who spend more time outdoors in nature do better in academics such as math, science, technology, and the arts. This is probably because there are no fixed rules to follow. Children are free to make their guidelines and games. Opportunities like this are great for creating and using their imagination which is vital to proper cognitive development.

Helps Build Problem-Solving Abilities

When children are involved in unstructured play it helps them solve problems such as who goes first and what type of rules should be involved in the game. Obviously, you will want to supervise the play for younger children, however, the important part is letting the kids work together on problems before stepping in and resolving a question or conflict.

Develops Higher Levels of Social and Emotional Intelligence

Unstructured nature play helps teach teamwork and social skills. The children must learn to take turns, share, listen to each other, make decisions, and create imaginary scenarios. Since the kids are creating the playtime, it allows ample time to learn on their own among their peers.

Inspires Appreciation of Nature and Wildlife

The importance of nature play in early childhood is clear, but how does it relate to conservation? It’s simple. The more you can get children involved with nature, the better off both will be. If you can get your kids interested in nature and wildlife, they will want to get involved to help make the world a better place. Perhaps they’ll want to plant more trees, or maybe they’ll want to help wildlife initiatives with preserving different species of animals.

In the end, it doesn’t matter how they decide to help. The important thing is that they want to help. It really will create a better future for all of us!

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Free Nature Journal for Kids