CO-Horts Blog

Friday, June 12, 2015

Nature Play: the importance of getting outside and getting dirty!

Posted by: Deryn Davidson, Boulder County Extension

This week the City of Boulder hosted a free 2-day symposium on Nature Play. What is nature play? Well, pretty much what it sounds like: being outside, interacting with the natural world and playing. Research shows that in children and adults, it reduces stress, decreases symptoms of ADHD, increases levels of concentration and can boost immune systems. As a gardener, I feel lucky to be someone that gets to play in nature pretty regularly but, a lot of people these days just don’t. The national average for children is 7 minutes per day spent outside playing. Recognizing the benefits I gain from time spent outside, I can confidently say, that is not enough!! 

There is a national movement happening to try to get children back outside and experiencing the natural world more regularly, whether it’s while they’re in school or on the weekends with friends and family. Boulder’s current effort is to redesign part of the Civic Area downtown into a nature play space for children of all ages. By most accounts, Boulder, CO is one of the most outdoorsy places in the country, but even there, with people’s busy schedules sometimes it still takes considerable effort to get outside and play! I think it’s great that the City is responding to the community’s recommendation to enhance these public spaces and create places for kids to have opportunities within an urban context to be “in nature”.

Ideas generated by symposium participants
The first evening was a gathering of community members, City employees and two invited guests,nationally recognized nature play experts Robin Moore and Louise Chawla. The evening was designed to provide guidance and direction to the department as they work to enhance connections to the natural environment within urban park system. We went through different exercises reflecting on our favorite moments spent in nature and then a huge brainstorming session on what we would like to see be included in the final design.The results of the evening were documented and will be considered as the team moves forward.

The following images are some of the ideas generated by the symposium participants. What elements they would like to see implemented and some of their favorite memories of time spent in nature as children.

The second evening was a more formal presentation by Mr. Moore and Ms. Chawla on their research and how we can all work to provide opportunities for children and adults to get outside. The panel discussion that followed included area representatives who are working to create these opportunities through their work in design and with local children. One of the important messages I heard was not only that children benefit by interacting with nature, but that the natural world benefits too. When children learn to appreciate and respect nature, it promotes stewardship later in life.  

Panel discussion
So whether we as adults are helping kids learn about where our food comes from by planting vegetable gardens and letting them help, or teaching them about ecology and natural systems, the research shows it will have great positive impacts. The kids benefit, but we do too!!

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