In an age of video games and on-demand television, children are spending less and less time outside. A survey conducted last year showed that almost three quarters of UK children are spending less than an hour a day playing outside. Now consider that the UN guidelines for prisoners require “at least one hour of suitable exercise in the open air daily”. The comparison highlights an alarming issue.
While Scandinavians have their children outside from an early age, British children are among the most house bound in the world. When they do get out, the spend their time playing on tarmac covered playgrounds – far away from mud, puddles, and dirt in general. Clearly it is a matter of cultural views, which are probably rooted in how the outdoors in general is seen.
If you think about the outdoors as something for a select few to test their determination, skill, and guts against it is easy to see why you wouldn’t think of it as a place for children. On the other hand, if the outdoors is spending time in the back garden, going to the local woods or hills, or even the park then it’s understandable that Scandinavian children spend more time exploring their surroundings.
Spending time outside have a lot of proven benefits, including reducing stress, boosting creativity, and even increasing brain capacity. All of these are valuable for adults, but absolutely crucial to the development of children.
However, even if the statistics paint a dark picture not everything is doom and gloom. In recent years there has been a growing trend of Scandi-styled nurseries here in the UK – where the teaching is done outside, and an emphasis is placed on learning through playing. These nurseries have been around since the early nineties, but are growing in popularity at a time where they might be more important than ever. In a lot of ways these forest schools truly embody the concept of ‘friluftsliv’, where the outdoors is a part of everyday life.
But even if having your child spending their entire day outside doesn’t sound right to you, the beauty of the Scandinavian approach is that it doesn’t take much to embrace the outdoors. Small steps like having your young ones help with the gardening, taking them along for the walk with the dog, or going to throw some rocks in the local stream will go a long way to grow their appreciation for what is around them.
Your children are not the only ones that will benefit either. Today we always seem to be going at breakneck speed wherever we are going. Whether it is work or play, a lot of focus tends to be on getting what needs to get done as quickly as possible. Our lives are lived in straight lines between point A and point B. Bringing your child along for a walk will inevitably force you to take your foot of the gas and be ready to meander along with the impulsive whims of a toddler.
Another great way to get together outdoors as a family is through food. Everything taste better outside, that is a widely accepted fact in Scandinavia. That’s just as true whether it’s the coffee break during a long trek, lunch in the back garden, or a picnic in the local park.
For children eating outside is a lot more fun too. Rarely do you have to haggle to get them to eat the hot dogs prepared over an open fire, and as soon as it is scarfed down they are back to playing again. That is surely worth your child downing some microbes licking dirty fingers to any parent.
So fill up your thermos, pack up the sandwiches, grab the blanket, and head to your nearest green area. Outdoor bliss for the entire family awaits.
Browse our selection of products from Light My Fire here for some outdoor eating inspiration!