Get kids back to the roots of activity
by Kate Magner
Every parent wants their kids to grow up happy, healthy and safe. One of the best things parents can do for their kids is to provide them with the chance to connect with nature.
Studies have shown that spending time in nature has very positive effects on health and well-being. Being in nature provides a way for families to be active. It also provides a setting for learning and development to take place. It allows kids to build skills, problem solve and exercise their creativity. According to the Joint Initiative of the Interprovincial Sport and Recreation Council and the Canadian Parks and Recreation Association, being in nature has an amazing ability to support health, including:
- Lowering blood pressure
- Reducing stress
- And supporting children’s social and cognitive development
Why nature improves children’s health
There are four popular explanations for why contact with nature improves children’s health and well-being:
Nature increases activity
The first is that green environments provide a setting for physical activity. Physical activity improves mood, boosts energy, supports weight management, and combats disease.
Nature connects us with the ones we love
The second reason is that nature offers the chance to connect with other people. This allows your child to build friendships and a sense of community. It also provides access social support.
Nature puts your mind at ease
The third explanation is that nature has the ability to restore the brain from mental fatigue. It offers distance from daily demands and stressors. This can lower anxiety and replenish cognitive capacity.
Nature makes people happy
Finally, nature is good for children’s health because it makes them happy! Unlike any other setting, natural environments allow for exploration, discovery and skill development—all of which build confidence, promote resiliency and improve mood.
Are kids playing outside?
According to Active Healthy Kids Canada, most children in Canada are not spending enough time outside. Seventy per cent of kids spend an hour or less per day outdoors. Nearly 50 per cent of children in Canada say they don’t have enough time to be involved in an outdoor program. Though many of us value the time we do spend in nature, it can seem difficult to prioritise getting outside between work and school, the commute, homework and after-school activities.
What can parents do?
Parents have a great influence on their children’s habits. You have an important role to play in getting your kids outside and in touch with nature. Kids will model what their parents do. Research suggests children are more likely to participate in nature-based activities when their parents are also active in this way, and when their parents give them approval and encouragement to take part. Likewise, the more children are exposed to nature at an early age, the more likely they are to continue to spend time outside, and to reap all the health and happiness benefits that come from it as they grow up.
Fortunately, it’s easier than you think! Ottawa is home to an abundance of parks, rivers, woodlands and other urban green spaces. City dwellers can find nature-based experiences right outside their doorsteps. A walk through the park, a picnic by the canal, a game of frisbee outside or some time spent digging in a community garden are all great ways to spend more time in nature.
Have questions? Check out the Parenting in Ottawa Facebook page at facebook.com/ParentinginOttawa, visit ottawa.ca/health or call 613 580-6744 (TTY: 613 580-9656).
Kate Magner is a research assistant and medical student with Ottawa Public Health.