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Why Nature Play

The Luci and Ian Family Garden is a wonderland of native plants and interactive features for families to explore. This 4.5-acre garden provides an opportunity for people of all ages to immerse themselves in nature and at the same time learn naturally through hands-on experience and play. What is so important about such unstructured interactions in the outdoors? As a child, you may recall scurrying over boulders, gazing through multi-colored leaves, exploring a rotting log, or splashing through a muddy puddle. These were formative experiences because they cultivated curiosity, creativity, confidence, and compassion for living things.

Unfortunately, the majority of children today do not have as many opportunities to explore the natural world as previous generations. There is less play and outdoor activity since the 1970s. Resulting in a loss of 12 hours of free time a week, 25% decrease in play, and 50% decrease in outdoor activities. Today on average only 6 percent of children ages 9-13 play outside on a weekly basis (McCurdy et al., 2010).

There is a multitude of reasons for why childhood play has changed so dramatically over the last several decades, including longer school days, increased scheduled extracurricular activities, media coverage of perceived dangers to children, technology, and lack of access to natural areas. On the other hand, there are even more reasons for why it is vital for humans to have nature-rich experiences.

Studies show that children who play and learn in nature are happier, healthier and smarter.

Reasons why nature play is important:

  • School children who use playgrounds with trees, fields, shrubs, and vegetated edges show more creative play, better concentration, and more inter-gender play than peers with equipment-focused playgrounds
  • Fosters higher self-esteem and good self-discipline
  • Makes kids feel more capable and confident
  • Develops more cooperation with others
  • Children become good problem solvers through solving problems outside
  • Outdoor play in green settings reduces the symptoms of attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder and helps to properly develop immune systems among other health benefits
  • Regular habits of active play during childhood are one of the best predictors of active adulthoods
  • Frequent, unstructured childhood play in natural settings has been found to be the most common influence on the development of life-long conservation values
© 2016 Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center