Listen: Simon Hutchison explains the health benefits for children when they play outdoors.
Today’s kids are overloaded with options for indoor entertainment—but they’re sadly lacking in opportunities to play outside in nature.
The trend isn’t just contributing to child obesity, it’s also stealing many emotional and mental health beneifts. Research from around the world has shown that regular time in nature helps children with their attention, their learning, their creativity, their self-esteem, emotions and psychological wellbeing.
That’s why Adelaide man Simon Hutchinson has made a business out of constructing nature play areas for children. The founder of Climbing Tree nature play consultancy, he spent his childhood mucking about outdoors on a farm, and at the beach—and he wants modern kids to have opportunities to connect with nature too.
He told Hope 103.2’s Katrina Roe that working as a teacher in the city, he noticed how many kids were missing out on outdoor play—and set his sights on changing that.
“All the kids had been doing all holiday was going to a shopping centre, watching movies and playing [computer] games.”
“I moved to the city to do my teaching degree and you’d come back from a six-week summer holiday, and you’d ask the kids what they’d been doing, and all they’d been doing was going to a local shopping centre, watching movies and playing [computer] games. I’d ask ‘Did you not get outside?’
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“So I did a bit of study one year, and [only] two out of 650 kids in that school actually went camping in a wild space. That’s how I started thinking and morphing my PE teaching role, to doing the traditional things I used to do like climbing trees and making cubbies, and it all sparked from there.”
The Benefits of Time in Nature
Time in nature benefits children in countless ways, increasing their happiness, resilience and creativity, and learning about risk-taking.
“When I used to teach, kids would come from being inside all day and being all worked up, and you’d go into the garden, and give them five minutes to walk around the garden, and you could see that stress just melt off them,” Simon explained. “So nature has a really strong effect on our mental health and kids really need that time in nature.
“It’s really important for kids to take risks, jump off big logs and engage with risk, because it helps them become safer adults,” he explained. “Nature gives all those opportunities to have those little scratches and bruises, those learning injuries.”
The Role of Schools to Provide Green Spaces
With so many children growing up in apartments and small suburban blocks, many are missing out on the chance to engage with nature. Simon believes schools need to help provide opportunities for them.
“Kids don’t have back yards any more and spend a lot of time inside at home; parents are time-poor. So I think schools have a big role, allowing those opportunities for unstructured play, especially at lunch and recess times. But also use natural spaces in schools for learning, to do your maths and literacy and science.
“Schools trap kids inside for way too long. I believe we need to start thinking about getting them outside 50 per cent of the time they’re at school.”