How Being Outdoors Helps Children to Develop Healthy MindsNovember 4, 2020 • Outdoor Ideas
There are many reasons why being outside and amongst nature is so good for us all – and is especially good for children in building strong foundations for life. We’ve asked our friends from Winston’s Wish about spending time outdoors and why it has a positive influence on children’s mental health.
Apart from being an accessible form of free fun, a walk in the woods is a such a simple form of exercise that can help us to keep our bodies and minds healthy. It can help us to control weight, to give us energy, to breathe fresher, cleaner oxygen – which has benefits for the respiratory system – and it can also help us to calm, inspire and restore ourselves mentally.
In the work we do at Winston’s Wish we strongly advocate outdoor activity and nature walks for well-being, encouraging children and families to experience the therapeutic and connective nature of being outdoors. Here’s why…
1) The feel good factor
Whenever we do exercise, our brains release ‘happy’ chemicals called endorphins that can make us feel good. Even gentle exercise, such as walking in the rain, can offer release – especially when you find shelter!
2) Learning about the world
Letting little adventurers explore a range of different habitats and different types of life (e.g. lifting up a rock to find a bug museum) can invite children to learn about the world around them. It can also spark imagination and creativity – especially if you have someone who is into den building, or likes stories about swamps, or mud, or going on a bear hunt!
3) Learning about pace
Being able to run, jump, climb and explore surroundings at a child’s own pace is important. It can help children to establish the right individual pace for themselves in life. We also know the importance of pace in grief, which is as individual as a fingerprint. In both nature and grief, children sometimes want to be alone with it, and at other times will want and need to be with other people.
4) Connecting with others
Human connection is a basic human need, and outdoor activity can facilitate better communication and interaction. For adults, talking can often feel easier when walking, particularly when talking about difficult subject matter, as you can let your mind wander. For children, walking and talking – listening and being listened to – promotes self-esteem, while connecting with other children through play is an important part of healthy child development.
5) Developing resilience through difficult conversations
We start experiencing loss at an early age, and continue to do so through our lifetimes. Broaching difficult subjects, such as loss through death, can be daunting for parents, but is essential for developing resilience.
Being outside can give opportunities to connect with nature, to think about the natural life cycle. It gives an opportunity to talk about death in a natural way. For example, if you see a tree that has fallen, you can talk about how its trunk can provide nutrients for soil and new growth and natural habitats, so that other life can survive through adversity.
Walking and talking when bereaved
Getting back to basics, looking at nature and connecting to the outside environment and wider world, can offer us perspective and help us to look ahead to the future.
Families who join us on nature walks often tell us “it felt nurturing. Looking at nature made me feel that life continues – and there is beauty once you step outside into a different space.”
Unlike adults who stay with their grief, children often jump in and out of theirs. We often refer to this as puddle jumping; just as little ones can be upset about falling over one minute, and then splashing about with joy the next, younger children, in particular, have the ability to talk about upsetting things one moment, and then quickly shift to wanting to play and looking for happiness.
At Winston’s Wish we value opportunities for young people to express how they are feeling. By creating a safe environment for children within nature, there are opportunities to learn about both life, death and themselves, and to develop strong coping mechanisms for the future.
That’s why on 24th May we’re inviting everyone to make a splash and raise some cash! To join us for a day of fundraising, simply by donning your wellingtons, click here for your free fundraising pack: https://www.winstonswish.org/wear-wellies-day/
About Winston’s Wish
More than 100 children are bereaved of a parent or sibling in the UK every day, which can be one of the most devastating experiences a child will ever go through. At Winston’s Wish we support children, young people and their families after the death of someone close – as well as the professionals supporting them. We know through our experience that with the right support, at the right time, children can go on to live full and flourishing lives. We help bereaved children to make sense of what has happened to them, and to learn to live with, and beyond, their grief, so that they can face their futures with confidence and hope.
For information, advice and guidance, please call our Freephone National Helpline on 08088 020 021 or visit us at www.winstonswish.org