Get your kids to nature!

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Hallerbos in April, www.facebook.com/gretaphotostories

 

In the past, children would spend most of their time in nature. Nowadays it is no longer the case. Some parents do go to parks and nature places with their kids as often as possible but due to our lifestyle it is tough to manage: parents have chores to do at home so it is better that their kids play inside where they can be at least partly supervised; when it is raining or cold parents decide not to go outside because of the weather and thus teach this to their kids; if parents live far from green spaces they go there less often. Should we be concerned? From my personal experience I would be as among many other things nature is getting forgotten, at least in my mind.

Nature could change the brain

Consider this. Exposure to green spaces during lifetime could result in beneficial structural alterations in the brain. The researchers took into account all the addresses that the children (age 7-10) lived during their lives to identify green spaces and pollution and used 3-dimentional brain magnetic resonance imagining to fixate the brain changes. Lifelong exposure to greenness resulted in greater volumes in brain parts which peak levels predicted better working memory and reduced inattentiveness (Dadvand et al. 2018).

Or another example. Children – those with attention deficit disorder – manage their attention better after spending time in green outdoor spaces (Taylor, 2001). Being in nature could become an effective and inexpensive tool for kids instead or supplementing medication and therapy. There is also research showing beneficial effects of nature on impulse control, delay of gratification, managing stress, and weight control among others.

If exposure to nature could alter the brain and our cognitive abilities in a positive way, it must be very important! Nature could be not only a place to go when children do not have anything to do, but it could become an essential part of our and our children’s everyday experience.

Many benefits of free play in nature

As an opposite of modern lifestyles, more and more movements appear that concentrate on nature, such as forest schools for example.

Angela J. Hanscom, who is an occupational therapist and an author of the book “Balanced and Barefoot”, advocates free play outdoors, which means children being outdoors with very few rules and minimal supervision. According to her, free play could help children who have physical difficulties such as having less strength than others, developing poor posture, having troubles to endure physical activities, often falling or having endless cold, as well as those who have psychological difficulties such as becoming aggressive, experiencing difficulties controlling their emotions, being anxious. Playing freely outdoors is beneficial and for children who just do not know how to play anymore without adults’ intervention – in nature one always has some stimuli around that could be used for play. According to the author, a child should spend outdoors at least several hours a day. Several hours a day! That is really a lot when compared with a contemporary way of life. It is still manageable although I believe that less is very beneficial as well.

It is better when nature for a child is not only to look at while walking on a cemented pavement but also a place to engage such as climbing a tree or creating a shelter from the branches of a tree.

Nature places in the area

So get kids to nature! These are some of nature places around Brussels for your inspiration:

Tervuren Park – you can have a nice walk during all seasons. There is a café in the middle of the park.

Arboretum in Tervuren – a special forest with a big avenue and trees from around the world.

Rouge Cloitre – there are ponds, a place for picnic, some animals, an art center, a playground and a big forest around for you to explore.

Meise botanical park – a big park with flowers, bushes, a café. You have to pay for this one.

Gaasbeek castle and the park around it – especially nice in spring. There is a restaurant with a lot of space outside. You have to pay for the entrance to the castle, but the park is free to explore. You can visit the castle but it is also nice just to walk around.

Hallerbos – a forest with blossoming bluebells will leave you feeling happy and content, somewhere in the end of April.

For further exploration on nature and children:

https://www.childrenandnature.org/learn/research  – summaries of peer-reviewed research papers on nature and children.

https://wilderchild.com/ – various activities in nature shared by a mom living on the farm.

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