Friday, 16 August 2013 07:23

The Benefits of Nature for Children

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The Benefits of Nature for Children




Nature is a fantastic space for toddlers aged 0-3 years. It provides an environment that allows a young child to play, be active, messy and interact with the outdoors. The natural environment offers essential experiences that are vital for a toddler’s wellbeing, health and development (Warden, 2007). A natural environment also gives young children a variety of perspectives including change, uncertainty, surprise and excitement (Goldschmeid and Jackson, 1994).


This article will identify a number of key environmental elements that young children should be interacting with in an outdoor environment.




Young children are drawn to mud and soil. The sensory feelings of mud sliding through their fingers combined with the endless ideas for active and interactive play indicates that mud and soil is a must in any outdoor environment. Warden (2007) notes, that soil also has health benefits, because it provides exposure to germs and bugs which increases a child’s ability to produce antibodies. A study by parents in Norway supports this by noting that the incidence of colds and infections actually went down when children spent more time outdoors interacting with elements like soil (Norwegian Barneharge, 2005). A study conducted by Bristol University has also found that a bacteria found in soil activates the neurons in the brain that produces serotonin. The lack of serotonin in the brain is thought to cause depression in people ( In other words, dirt may actually help your young child feel happy by regulating the serotonin levels in their brain.




Playing with sand is a must for children in any outdoor environment. The different textures sand can provide combined with the subtle variations when water is added, allows children the opportunity to connect using all of their senses as they play. Warden (2007) highlights the significance of sand in a young child’s life by noting that the variable nature of sand and water mixing together sends strong messages to the brain which engages all senses in the hands, feet and body. Sand is an open-ended element that can be used in many different ways. Lester and Maudsley (2006) note that sand can be used to create culinary recipes like soups and potions; it can create wet and dry places where toddlers can lie down, roll around and cover their bodies in it. Building elements (like buckets, logs, digging materials) into a sand environment also helps build gross motor activity because your child is now managing different surfaces and different textures. Warden (2007, p33) supports this by stating that the process of putting the body into a place of disequilibria builds up neural pathways in a child’s brain that develops gross motor capabilities. 


Stones and Rocks


Stones and rocks are another fantastic element for toddlers. They find the shape, colour and texture fascinating. Large boulders offer natural “pull-ups” for those children who are ready to stand upright (Warden, 2007). Lower rocks on the other hand offer a platform for toddlers to crawl and explore. Warden (2007) also notes that small hollows over the surface of large boulders can be used to create tiny bowls of water and leaves to investigate.




Water is a key element in life. Without it no living being could survive. Outdoor play should allow toddlers the opportunity to engage with water based activities. This can include jumping in a puddle to observing water trickling over stones (Warden, 2007). Warden (2007) note that water play teaches children cause and effect especially when toddlers can engage with water that flows from a pump, spout or tap. Water play also offers opportunities for social interactions and concept development. Lifting, pouring and controlling water devices allow young children the opportunity to develop their hand eye coordination and manipulative skills (Woods, 2007).


Interaction with nature’s elements is crucial to a young child’s development. It helps children find stimulation, well-being and happiness and is the means through which they grow physically, intellectually and emotionally. Mud and soil has significant health benefits, sand, stones and rocks build strengthen sensory perception and water helps develop hand eye coordination and manipulative skills.




Goldschmeid, E and Jackson, S. (1994). People under Three. London. Routledge Publishing.


Lester, S. And Maudsley, M. (2006). Play, Naturally: A review of children’s natural space. London: Children’s Play Council.


Norwegian Barneharge (2005). E.E.C.E.R.A Conference 2006.


Warden, C. (2007). Nurture Through Nature. Auchterarder. Mindstretchers.



Woods, A. (2007). The Magic Chocolate Pit. A story to illustrate elemental play. Paper presented at ARECE. Monash University Melbourne.


Bacteria Found In The Soil Activated A Group Of Neurons That Produce The Brain Chemical Serotonin." Medical News Today. MediLexicon, Intl., 4 Apr. 2007. Web.
14 Aug. 2013.

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