The benefits of a nature walk for children?

Nature benefits children running free

Oh, aren’t our children today lucky to have so many activities and access to modern technology? But where is the time in their everyday lives to connect with the multitude of delights offered by nature? Or just enjoy natural play in an outdoors with no boundaries or rules? Why is it so important for children’s well-being that they spend time outdoors in a natural environment?

Sometimes I break the normal routine during the school week to make sure my children get a dose of nature.

This is what happens when my children have an idyllic nature walk from school to home:

The afternoon was free of any after-school clubs, karate, tennis, ballet or riding lessons or such like. I left the car at home and made my way through the woods and up a steep hill. At the school gates I greeted my twins with their walking shoes.

They looked at me in awe when I told them to hold my hands and follow me down the lane. We were going to make the journey home on foot from their English village school. Only one road did we have to cross.

Yet, at the very moment that the bond is breaking between the young and the natural world, a growing body of research links our mental, physical, and spiritual health directly to our association with nature – in positive ways.” Richard Louv, Last Child in the Woods

The benefits of a nature walk for children

A nature walk like this was not just slotting in leisure time within their busy schedule but a means for me as a parent to help them to be healthier, more creative and happier.

It can also make them perform better at school.

So many studies and reports, campaigns and back-to-nature movements emphasize that children need nature and time outdoors whether for their emotional well-being, improving their learning abilities, increasing their attentiveness, reducing stress and anxiety, or merely to appreciate the wonders of the natural environment. (The list of benefits goes on – see Note below for sources)

The author and journalist Richard Louv describes children left indoors as suffering ‘nature deficit disorder.’

In the spring, at the end of the day, you should smell like dirt.” Margaret Atwood, novelist, poet and environmental activist b 1939

Nature benefits children hill running

We were heading home as the crow flies. We hadn’t even reached the nature trail and my kids were already clambering up and down the sides of the dirt track.

Then we were at the top of a hill. I paused to gaze upon the glory of the English landscape. They ran with complete abandon down its steep grassy slope. I felt the warmth of the sun on this spring day. They felt the air rush freely against their cheeks.

As a child I was happiest playing outdoors. When I got back home from school, I’d throw down my books and go out to play. My children don’t do that.” David Bond, Project Wild Thing

Nature benefits children playingNature benefits children wood path

What happened? We were outdoors as children. Our children are not.

In the late 1960s upwards of 50% of American children walked to and from school each day (The Atlantic ‘Why kids don’t walk to school anymore’). Now it’s nearer to 10 percent. More than 70% of today’s UK parents walked to school as children. Less than half of their children walk to school today (Living Streets Org). Just a generation ago 50% of children in the UK played in wild places (National Trust). Now? Less than 10%. In the last few decades US children’s amount of time outdoors has dropped by half (National Wildlife Federation).

To see a world in a grain of sand, 
And a heaven in a wild flower,
Hold infinity in the palm of your hand, 
An eternity in an hour.” William Blake, poet 1757-1827

Nature benefits children woods and flowersNature benefits children bluebells

Soon we were on a path meandering through woods and brambles. Wild flowers smiled at my children. At the foot of a stile or under the shade of a tree these tiny natural masterpieces grew.

No signs or officials or busybodies were around ordering my children not to pick or trample flowers or break a twig or stray from the path or forbidding them to climb a tree. But they didn’t have to be told. Without a prompt my daughter reassured me she wouldn’t step on any of the bluebells in the woods. They didn’t want to harm the wildlife around us. They just wanted to share their outdoors home.Nature benefits children tree climbing

The ’50 Things To Do Before You’re 11¾’ initiative is in response to a report commissioned by the National Trust which highlighted research that fewer than 1 in ten children regularly play in wild places compared to almost half a generation ago, a third have never climbed a tree and 1 in ten can’t ride a bike.” The National Trust

The National Trust was founded in 1895 with a mission to ‘promote the preservation of places of historic interest and natural beauty for the benefit’ of the British nation. It is now Britain’s largest private landowner. As a result of studies over the lack of nature in children’s lives, its call for action was to launch the nationwide campaign “50 things to do before you’re 11 ¾.”

Nature is made for childhood adventures. A small clearing with bluebells and a fallen trunk beckoned them. My son swung from a branch. My daughter speculated out loud if this could be a new special outdoors place? They also have a den which they built in the woods. Secret places in the woods like dens also make a difference to children.

When we walked along the edge of a field, I admired the spring blossoms. My children wanted to run, climb a tree, find a stick, sit in the grass, explore. They made up games and had pure unstructured playtime. Our walk home from school should have taken less than 30 minutes but we spent over an hour as every path led to a new discovery, a new diversion, and a new natural play area.

Just living is not enough, one must have sunshine, freedom, and a little flower.” Hans Christian Andersen, author 1805-1875

Nature benefits children lake pathNature benefits children lake reflectionNature benefits children quiet moment

Geese and ducks drifted past as we followed a trail around a small lake. My son sat down on a log and wound grass around a twig. I thought of Huckleberry Finn. Our senses awakened by the scent and sight of wild flowers, blossoming trees and reflections in the water.

Forget-me-nots by the edge of the water made me hope that walks like this to and from school will one day become cherished childhood memories of being outdoors. Walks like this will nourish an active relationship with nature while they continue with their endless hours of screen time. Walks like this experiencing the outdoors will help them be calmer, smarter and happier as they learn to master virtual worlds.

Walks like this will teach them to become caretakers of our wild world and planet.

We really want kids to enjoy being in the outdoors and to care about nature, so it becomes part of their life as they grow up. The memories made as a child stay with you forever, and if outdoor places are part of these memories then hopefully children will grow up wanting to protect these special places for years to come.” Helen Meech, Assistant Director, Outdoors and Nature Engagement at The National Trust

Nature benefits children in woodlands

Our nature walk from school reminded me of bygone eras when children embraced the outdoors. But I don’t just want it to be a past memory. I want it to be part of their present and their future. And, yes, we are lucky as the trails and landscape on our homeward journey are rather idyllic for a nature walk. But we also regularly visit forests and parks elsewhere in the countryside as I want their electronic lives to be balanced with nature.

As children grow older, their ‘electronic addictions’ increase. Britain’s 11–15-year-olds spend about half their waking lives in front of a screen: 7.5 hours a day, an increase of 40% in a decade.” Study quoted in the 2012 National Trust Natural Childhood report.

The natural environment can have profound effects on children’s development. But sometimes for me the benefits are the simple things such as watching my twins’ happiness grow on a walk in the great outdoors.

Do you have special memories of playing outdoors as a child or climbing trees or roaming freely or just being more connected to the natural world?

RESOURCES NOTE ON CHILDREN & NATURE:

If you would like to find out more about studies and research on the benefits of children being outdoors with nature then here are some articles and books with facts and lists of sources:

Resources page on the Children & Nature Network website includes collections of scientific literature, reports and surveys.

Richard Louv The Nature Principle: Reconnecting with Life in a Virtual Age (Also on UK Amazon)

Richard Louv Last Child in the Woods: Saving our Children from Nature-Deficit Disorder  (Also on UK Amazon)

The US Wilderness Society “9 Surprising reasons for getting kids outside this summer”

Getting back to the great outdoors by the American Psychological Association

Every Children Outdoors by the British nature organisation RSPB

Natural Childhood report by Britain’s National Trust

Why connect kids and nature by the US National Wildlife Federation

34 thoughts on “The benefits of a nature walk for children?”

  1. I love strolling with my two, as they run and explore, or we chat about what we’re seeing around us. The fresh air, the freedom and just being out there is good for us all. Great post with some really interesting points and beautiful photos x

  2. Wow, that’s an amazing walk home. My kids walk home from school, but it’s beside the road and cars 🙁 I completely agree about the benefits though, we always try to get out for a weekend walk.

    1. Thanks Christine! One good thing coming out of the back to nature movements is there’s pressure now on more communities to improve the ways home from school and provide more natural habitats.

  3. Fabulous photos! And I love all the quotes you shared. May you all have many, many more such memories made of sunshine and freedom!
    ~Lee

  4. Beautiful photos.
    I love letting my oldest 2 roam about outdoors as much as I can (they’re still quite small). We have an orchard opposite our house and they can quite often be found building dens, climbing trees and smelling flowers. I grew up playing out in the mud and enjoying nature which I loved. I want my children to enjoy the same.

    1. Thank you Victoria. Somerset is gorgeous for walks – I went to boarding school in Dorset near the Somerset border and still remember the amazing rambles we’d go on every weekend. In those days we were allowed to go off on walks across the countryside without teachers and without supervision whenever we wanted. One of our favourite things when the weather was really warm was to go swimming in a hidden weir we discovered on one of our walks.

  5. We are so blessed to live in the country, where our son will be able to walk to school, open fields and woodland are just a stones throw away and a natural pond is just up the road. I love how this post has reminded me of my childhood and how I want that for my son.

  6. We do a fair bit of walking and I love it. Winter has been tough from that perspective! The last few days, since we got back from the UK, the weather has been great in the afternoons and we’ve been to the park and the kids have played in the garden after school. Muddy faces, hands and knees tell me that they’ve been doing exactly what they should be doing x

    1. You have such a wonderful garden Sara (now that you can see it again after the snow melted). Your posts are filled with your kids just enjoying themselves and using their imagination in their own back yard as well as walks elsewhere.

  7. What a wonderful thing to do! You’ve got some stunning countryside nearby.
    I count myself very lucky that we have always walked to school. It’s nothing like that – just four minutes down the road, but I would hate to drive in school traffic and I think it’s important kids don’t become reliant on the car. My kids are more outdoors than most, but don’t spend as much time in nature – it’s more football and rugby pitches!
    Good luck with the BiBs!

  8. What a fabulous walk you had, that definitely looks like the perfect place to get out and explore. I bet your two really enjoyed exploring the beautiful scenery and natural play areas around them on their walk home from school, I’m sure they’re looking forward to walking home in the sunshine more often.

  9. It won’t surprise you to learn that I totally agree with you. I love the Margaret Attwood and Blake quotes-sums it up perfectly. I love this time of year for that very reason-more time to be outside. I have to say what a glorious walk home from school too, I’m a little envious of that 🙂

  10. Dean of Little Steps

    I love that quote by Margaret Atwood! Little T and I walk to and fro from school and love it! It’s funny because our neighbours’ actually drive their kids to school! We’re lucky we also live in a place where nature is also at it’s best (what with the ocean and a lovely woodland nearby), little T also enjoys going out on nature adventures 😉

  11. I can’t imagine a childhood without wandering in the countryside, admiring and being surrounded by nature. We’ve been on a walk today with a friend, who was really impressed with how far my 5 year old will walk without complaining. #CountryKids

  12. Lucas says – I love going for big walks and it looks like you had an awesome time. I love running in the woods when we take Ash out for a walk and sometimes I try and climb trees. I’m getting really good at it. I loved all your photos. I’m now about to tell the Mother I want to take Ash up the woods for a long walk. Catch ya laters………….

  13. I remember long walks on my Grandad’s farm. Jumping on molehills, kicking puffballs, ripping up ragwort. I remember making dens at the back of the garden under the rhododendrons and having a little patch of garden to call my own. Kids and nature go together.

  14. Just a fantastic story. i totally agree because despite growing up playing video games and watching lots of TV my happiest times are outdoors in nature. People think I’m a little crazy to think that you can teach anything you need with a walk in the woods but it’s true. Balancing on a log is learning about gravity, momentum and other aspects of physics, looking under rocks is obviously an exploration in biology and understanding why the different colours of things matter is quite a lesson in chemistry.

    That is of course if you choose to love the nature that’s around you.

    I love the pics and I’m looking forward to your next post.

  15. Such a great article is this, really loved it. The pictures you have shared along with your feelings makes this article a must read
    I would love to take my son on walks like this which will surely benefit both mind and body

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