Nurturing Natural Connections

Published on: April 11, 2020

A father and Early Years Leader explains the importance of having meaningful connections with nature and how it leads to a healthy urban life for our children.  

By Nicholas Garvin  

In this age of hyper-connectivity and instant access to information, we’re more connected than ever before. But as we continue to embrace the digital age of high-speed technology, one connection that runs the risk of being lost from this generation’s childhood is their connection to nature. In a startling fact, the average American child is said to spend more or less seven minutes a day in unstructured play outdoors and over 7 hours a day in front of a screen. This shift is largely due to technology and our modern world. It’s not just children; adults are spending less time outdoors as well. For many families, the lack of safe outdoor places to play also is a factor.  Here in the concrete jungles of Bangkok, it can be easy to get lost in the hustle and bustle and forget to stop and smell the roses. It often requires a reminder or a conscious effort to get back to nature. That said, meaningful connections with the natural world don’t have to begin in the rainforest or the arctic. It can start in our own backyards, sois, and communities. They begin by being modeled by parents and caregivers. 

In any megacity, it can be easy to go through life and have very little connection with nature.

Finding connections to nature in cities is key to a healthy urban life. This is especially true for young children. 

According to the Harvard Health Blog (Harvard Medical School), playing outdoors can improve your child’s health in six ways:

  1. Sunshine
  2. Exercise
  3. Executive function
  4. Risk-taking
  5. Socialization
  6. Appreciation for nature

The benefits of sunshine and exercise need not be explained. Executive functions help children develop skills related to teamwork, leadership, decision-making, goal setting, critical thinking, adaptability, and being aware of one’s own emotions as well as those of others. These skills are crucial for learning and development. According to the Harvard Health Blog, when children have opportunities to develop executive function and self-regulation skills, lifelong benefits accrue.

In any megacity, it can be easy to go through life and have very little connection with nature. But disconnection from nature has very real consequences for our mental and physical wellbeing. Separated from nature, we are more stressed, heal more slowly, and feel much more emotionally imbalanced. So if a connection to nature is so critical for our wellbeing, what can urbanites do, since we are separated from most major natural ecosystems? For a start, finding connections to nature in cities is key to a healthy urban life.

Children need comfort at school as they do at home. Give them a soft, quiet, and cozy area to play in by themselves or with friends. Creating places where children can be immersed in nature for days or weeks provides learning opportunities that can’t be replicated in urban megacities. Schools serve an important purpose in children’s lives and can have an essential influence on their health and wellbeing, in both the short and long term. 

… meaningful connections with the natural world don’t have to begin in the rainforest or arctic but in our own backyards, sois, and communities.

One global eco-initiative campaign launched to celebrate and inspire outdoor learning and play is The Outdoor Classroom Day, which is held multiple times throughout the year by thousands of schools worldwide. On this day, teachers take their lessons outdoors and prioritize playtime. In 2019, more than three million children in over a hundred countries took part in Outdoor Classroom Day.

Curious to learn more? It’s easy to get involved. The next Outdoor Classroom Day this year falls on 21 May and 5 November. So let’s celebrate and inspire outdoor learning and play.

As parents, the sooner we re-establish our connection with the outdoors, the better—not only will it show children how important spending time in nature is but you might enjoy it just as much as they do.

Photos by Andy Kuzma from Pexels  


About the Author

Nicholas Garvin is the Early Years Cohort Leader at VERSO International School, opening in August 2020. He has worked on three different continents and is a workshop facilitator & conference organizer for the 21st Century Learning Conference. This is an annual event in Hong Kong where teachers, staff and school leaders come together to learn, share and discuss current and emerging topics in education with thought leaders, technology and learning experts and their peers. He is looking forward to partnering with parents, teachers and students to build VERSO’s founding community. Nick lives in Bangkok with his wife and two-year-old daughter.

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