As a very active person I was encouraged by my parents to get outside in all weathers. One of these memories I have was a Sunday afternoon when I remember practicing how to ride my bike without any hands up and down the street, because I was bored and my parents wanted to relax (I don’t blame them I am very active), so they encouraged me to go outside and play. Which of course I did and had great fun doing it.
I also used to run cross country in all types of weather, well mostly rain and mud up to my knees and with snow falling from the sky, what an adventure it was, but I absolutely loved it … most of the time, anyway. I have always enjoyed the fresh air and space that being outdoors gives me and I thinking about this has made me wonder, how I seemed to have turned out pretty good, but is this because I was exposed to the outdoors from an early age?
Don’t get me wrong I am not saying that if you didn’t do cross country you are not a well round person or best version of you. I am just wondering does this exposure have a positive effect on children as they grow up?
Don’t worry I am not about to go into ‘this is how you should raise your children’ or give you suggestions on how you should do that, as we all have our own opinions and ways of doing that based on our own values and beliefs. This is solely looking at does these adventures and exposures have the desired positive effect on a child’s childhood.
For some of you reading this, you may be thinking that because I don’t have kids, if I have any right to question whether the outdoors has any effect on a childs childhood. However, sometimes an outside perspective can sometimes be just as important as a parents. For the record I do have a lot of experience of working with children of all ages and taken them on school trips and watching the effects that the outdoors has on children and how it can be sometimes very rewarding.
Firstly, I want to clarify what I mean by the outdoors for this article could be defined as allowing children to play, venture, bike ride, walk in an open space. Depending on the age whether this is supervised or unsupervised. This open space could be classed as gardens, streets, fields or parks etc.
How does this space affect a Childs childhood?
When a child (no matter of age) is given space a couple of things tends to happen. Firstly I have witnessed children get so overwhelmed by it, that they shy away and become introverted. I have also seen children relish into the space with imagination and adventure so that they feel at home within the outdoor environment. But I have also witnessed children who are unsure of what to do with this freedom and tend to become very hyperactive and silly with the lack of boundaries.
I just want to make it clear that all of these areas can happen to any child and within any space but I am only focusing on the effects that I have witnessed within the outdoors.
(I understand that there are more categories to this as well as other complex information that we could go on board with, such as children with special educational needs but for this article I feel that it will take that actual question out of its simplest form, which is why I am not going to delve into that right now).
From these three categories what affect is it having on them?
Let’s start with the children who respond by going introverted. When a child becomes introverted or quite it doesn’t mean that it’s a bad thing. As it means that they need time to become comfortable with their environment before they can truly relax. It’s a process that they have to go through and all children and adults do this at some point in their lives, to allow them observe and assess the space around them. They can sort through their emotions and their thoughts about this type of environment.
When this happens it means that they are gaining knowledge of what’s around them and appreciating what nature has to offer them. It also means that they have activated their frontal cortex to help them process these emotions, about their environment and how they feel and if they belong within it. Usually after they have recognised the patten / schedule or the way that it works they then tend to relax and enjoy the space, but still being mindful and creating boundaries for themselves.
As for children who relish within the outdoor environment enjoy a hands on learning style mostly and supports their way of thinking and independence skills of being responsible (for some older children anyway). This allows them to become more confident within themselves and raise their self esteem and social development. Something that I will talk more about a bit later on. Sometimes the children that are comfortable in this environment are not always the children that you would expect and when it happens straight away like this, it will alway amaze you on their development within this type of environment.
As for the children who become hyperactive, this can happen to every child like the other two categories. But means that as they run around filling the space with activity and silliness they are improving their physical development and working on their fundamental skills and fitness levels. This in its self is a good thing. Although the annoying level of silliness can often lead to someone with more maturity to step in and calm them down or usually a parent or guardian.
Now just because I have split the categories doesn’t mean to say that when they all get use to their environment and the open space they can all develop within this type of environment. But I am under no illusion that this is the only place where they can develop these skills as some other areas of their lives such as PE lessons, Drama lessons, parties etc will also bring out these characteristics. But I think the difference between these environments to the outdoor environment is that it is different and unfamiliar which leads to the children having to develop one of the same quality maturity and how they will cope with this amount of open space and less structured situations.
I believe that this unfamiliarity helps to develop a child’s character and traits that they need in life. As I have witnessed many children within these environments and believe that children really do learn more about themselves within the outdoors than they would from people telling them as with all children they learn from discovery and that is what the outdoors provides.
Now not everyone has all the same traits or are the same for that matter but it is the make up of who they are and who they are going to be. I feel that when I was young I was taught that you had to be resilient and determined to get and achieve what you wanted. From my outdoor exposure and adventures within open space a lot of the time I feel that I gained that I developed that as well as maturity and independence.
What I have witnessed
I have seen children develop in confidence and their communication skills when they are exposed to unfamiliar environments. Such as a child returning back to school after a Duke of Edinburgh with confidence, which was reflected within other areas of her school and personal life. Other students who have lacked in fitness have shown their determination to climb a hill that they have felt was hard and gone on to become more active and play for the school team. I have seen children develop the independence skills of packing their own bags, something that they have never done before within the outdoors and succeeding with this.
Children who enjoy the outdoor environment and feel comfortable tend to support and encourage others to get involved and feel comfortable too, as they communicate with their peers which effects them both within a positive way. In the outdoor environment, communication is very different to how children would communicate within a more structured environment and can also be for safety reasons. This is why children realise and develop these skills within the outdoors much quicker as the flight and fight mode of their brain is activated and this is why children who are introverted and the children who relish within this environment tend to get more out of being within the outdoors.
As for the children who are hyperactive their judgements and communication skills can sometimes become clouded if they are not reigned in but that in its self is a life lesson and can only truly be exposed within the outdoor environment.
I have seen children learn to process their emotions better and learn to communicate them without the need to lash out in frustration and children to talk to others who they have never spoken to before and developing their social skills. It is amazing when you see this happen to a child.
But don’t get me wrong some children don’t get anything out of it as they may relish within that environment but then fall back to the person they were before this exposure, that’s ok too that just means that they were the right level of perfect as they all are, no matter where they are or who they are in the first place. The outdoors just gives them a chance to widen their vision of the world around them and adventures along the way. Because we all know that life is full of many adventures no matter the scale because everyone is different and unique.
So this is why I believe that the outdoors have a positive affect on a child’s childhood as I can’t really seem to see what they wouldn’t get out of it. And even if they have been given the opportunity to be exposed to the outdoor environment before they will still gain something such as continue development of social and communication skills to support others relish within the space and unstructured environment.