A small group of four year olds lined up along the railing at the top of the tower at Woodland Dunes and patiently waited. Each child used his index finger and thumb to carefully hold a pinch of fluffy milkweed seeds and waited with anticipation until everyone in the group had some. Then it was time for the milkweed seed race! The kids stuck their arms through the railing, holding out the seeds off the side tower. We loudly counted three, two, one, go! Everyone released their seeds and watched as the wind quickly whisked them away. The kids were jumping up and down with excitement and squealing with laughter and delight. “Again! Again!” they shouted.
The average American child spends seven to ten hours a day looking at an electronic screen, and spends only mere minutes outdoors. Research continues to pour in, concluding that children need to spend time in nature. Outdoor play makes kids healthier, happier and more focused. Studies have demonstrated that children who regularly spend time in nature have better concentration, decreased levels of stress and depression, a strengthened immune system, better motor control (from pinching milkweed seeds!), more creative play and decreased symptoms of ADHD. Children who regularly spend time in nature are more likely to grow up to be adults who care about the environment.
Many parents think nature can only be found in far away places like wilderness areas or national parks. Nature is found in those places, but it is also found in your own backyard! The best place for your child to spend time outdoors is a place you can visit often. This could be your own backyard, the empty lot next door, a nearby park or local nature center. Parents do not need to be nature experts to take their child outside; they just need to take an interest in nature. Children mirror what the adults in their lives do. Simply pausing on the way to the car to observe the sky and the trees, is a great way to show your child you notice nature. Take them for a walk in your neighborhood and listen to the birds, count the different kinds of trees or make potions with the weeds in your backyard. At the end of the day, ask your child questions about their time outside, such as, “What is the coolest thing you saw outside today?” or “Why do you think the sky is blue?” You don’t need to know all the answers to the questions you ask. By asking questions, you are helping to ignite curiosity in your child’s mind.
I encourage you to take your children outdoors. Don’t worry about what you will do, just let your child lead the way. The simplest of activities can turn into great fun! Children need more nature and more milkweed seed races.
Assistant Director/Education Coordinator
Woodland Dunes Nature Center and Preserve, Inc.