Building on the great success of our little booklet Making a Mud Kitchen, each year Liz Edwards and I collaborate in producing a freely available resource (funded by Muddyfaces) to support our shared vision and goal of more children thriving outdoors, more often and for longer, benefiting from richer and more meaningful environments offering authentic, rewarding and satisfying experiences.
This year we were ready and excited to launch our lovely new booklet, Reasons To Be Outside (part 1) via the Early Childhood Outdoors professional gathering at the end of March…. Of course, this couldn’t happen, so we’ve been looking forward to sharing it far and wide. I’m delighted to announce that it’s now available on the Muddy Faces online shop Through a special temporary arrangement that avoids the normal courier charges, a single copy can be ordered for a small fee covering packing and postage – but for every resources order, one will be included as part of a free ‘Get Outdoors Pack’ (bulk orders are also available, but these involve the normal courier fee).
Focusing on foundational health and wellbeing aspects of being in the outdoors, the subject matter turns out to be incredibly timely! It really is very clear that being outside is good for children – but the science has never been more compelling than in the present situation. As thoughts now turn towards welcoming more children back into early years services, we are duty-bound to capture this opportunity to give our youngest so much more of what their physiology requires for them to be resilient, to recover, to thrive and to grow.
3 hours outdoors every day, throughout early childhood
Reasons To Be Outside makes the case that young children must be able to play outside a great deal, every single day, throughout their childhood years. Why should young children be outdoors so much? The science can help us to think more deeply about this question. As the first part in a forth-coming series (1) presenting the very many reasons that our youngest children need to be outdoors so much, this booklet attends to what is currently understood about the neuro-physiological aspects of child development and brain/body functioning that require the conditions provided by the outdoor environment – and which are not available indoors.
It draws together scientific studies in the biology of early childhood development, the researched effects of being outdoors, and how healthy child development is supported by active play in the outdoors. The focus here is on the biochemical process in brains and bodies that are influenced both by the conditions of the outdoor environment itself and by the ways children can be when they are outside.
Evolution happened outside and development requires the outdoors. Simply being outside is important! Just being outside has wide-ranging effects on physical and mental wellbeing, and it is a very different place that provides so much for brains, bodies and spirits. For almost all of the long history of human evolution (including of course the ancestors of the first homo sapiens), children and adults spent almost all of each day outside, so our evolution has been significantly shaped by the conditions of these outdoor environments. The result is that the neurological and physiological processes that run our brain/body systems have an expectation of these conditions. This is particularly important to think about for working out what young children need for full and healthy development of these basic biological processes and systems, which themselves underpin the rest of child development.
Better out than in!
There are very many reasons for young children to spend lots of time playing in the outdoors, every single day! Introducing what current scientific literature is indicating, so as to give food for thought about some important biological aspects of the human body in the outdoor environment, sections cover:
- natural light;
- vitamin D and the immune system;
- cool, fresh air;
- forest bathing and aromatherapy;
- highly sensory, multi-sensory, embodied learning;
- sensory development and sensory integration;
- developing good vision;
- supporting healthy eyes and sight;
- the importance of being active and its wide-ranging effects;
- moving makes children happy;
- movement supports thinking and learning.
It is also critical to realise that indoor environments rarely meet these requirements adequately – indeed they can often provide negative conditions, with results that can express themselves as behavioural issues or compromised learning. Perhaps we should be asking what is happening inside their bodies when young children are not outside?
Taken together, these reasons give us 3 vital messages:
- children arrive ready from birth to be outside;
- children’s minds, bodies and spirits require the outdoors;
- young children must be in the conditions outdoors provides for a minimum of 3 hours a day, every day, across the year and throughout childhood
3 hours a day might at first sound like quite a lot – but it is only a quarter of the child’s waking day.
3 hours a day each day amounts to 1000 hours a year. This is apparently about the amount of time western children spend looking at screens each day – mostly sedentary and indoors. Shouldn’t we be at least matching this with ‘the most high definition screen imaginable’? (2)
3 hours a day every day over 10 years amounts to 10,000 hours by the time the child is near the end of primary schooling. This is the agreed requirement as to the amount of experience and practice for becoming an expert (3). By the age of ten, every child should be an expert in being, playing and learning outdoors!
(1) Coming in 2021, Part 2 will explore what we understand about the psychological effects of being in the outdoors.
(3) The Tipping Point: how little things can make a big difference by Malcolm Gladwell (2002 Abacus).
This article is an edited extract from the booklet’s introduction © Muddyfaces 2020. All photographs are © Muddyfaces, with thanks to Menna Godfrey and Carol Duffy. Images must not be used without written permission from Muddyfaces or Early Childhood Outdoors.