Outdoor Play for Connection

Lisa MillardBeacon Community Services, Beacon Education Services, Beacon Family Services, Beacon Training Services, Family Relationships, News

Parents are obsessed with getting their children outside and, as it turns out, with good reason. 

As a child,  I remember being told often to “get some fresh air, it’s good for you”.  As a parent getting the kids outside normally alleviated the stress of days when their energy and chaos was beyond my tolerance levels. This was especially true during the lockdowns when spending time outdoors was one of the only types of exercise or socialising we were allowed. We know that being in nature has a positive effect on our wellbeing, but have you ever wondered what it is about being outside that feels so good?   

What does the science say? 

There have been many studies conducted over the years which have found that a disconnection with nature is one of the causes of depression. In fact, researchers found spending just five minutes in nature can quickly improve your mood. In the study published in the Journal of Positive Psychology, researchers found that participants who spent just five minutes in nature experienced an increase in positive emotions. Another study of 20,000 people conducted by the University of Exeter Medical School found that 120 minutes per week of time spent outdoors in  nature helps health and wellbeing.

Ecotherapy, or spending time in nature, can help parents and children lower stress levels, manage anxiety and reconnect with feelings of safety.  Another obvious benefit is that outdoor play can help parents manage their children’s screen time. Accessing nature helps young people connect with the natural world around them. Promoting young people’s relationship with nature is beneficial as adolescents (aged 11-15 years old) who perceive connection with nature to be important have been found to have better psychological wellbeing than adolescents who do not (Capaldi A. et al., 2014; Martin et al., 2020).

Can’t get outside? No problem! 

When you need an emotional boost, as we all do from time to time, the quickest way to get it may be to spend a few minutes with nature. That may be easier for those who live close to green spaces, in the country, or those who have a garden but you don’t actually need to go outside to feel the benefits. While the study in the Journal of Positive Psychology suggests that being outside is the best option, simply looking at pictures or representations of nature can also have a positive impact on emotional wellbeing.

When families come to see us at our play space at Beacon Family Services, we build in time enjoying our outdoor space at the beginning and end of each session, and its not just us who are aware of the benefits of playing outdoors. Forest schools have become increasingly popular and have been shown to benefit children’s wellbeing by enabling them to let off steam, shout and run. It also provides opportunities for calm reflection, confiding in peers and interacting with family members (Thomas & Thompson, 2005). Educators too have realised the benefits of nature with outdoor classrooms and outside lessons contributing to positive learning behaviours.

Many of the games included in our Cards To Help You Connect packs can be used outdoors. Instead of building a den out of pillows, you can build one out of sticks and leaves, or you can have a picnic. Wheelbarrows and Tug of War are also great games to play outside, though our personal favourite is Hide & Seek!

Charlotte Jenkins is the founder and a director of Beacon Family Services. She is an experienced social worker supporting children and families therapeutically using Theraplay and Dyadic Developmental Psychotherapy.  

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