3 benefits of spending time in nature for children and families – Healthy Bodies = Happy Minds
This year we have launched something very exciting here at Focus Foster Care. As of 2022, all of our approved foster carers will receive an annual membership to either the National Trust or English Heritage. Whether you have been fostering with us right from the start, or hope to join our fostering team in the future, if you are an approved Focus foster carer, this is a gift to you.
A membership to the National Trust or English Heritage will give you and the young people you care for, ample opportunities to get outside and explore. Research has found that time spent in nature has a positive impact on both the physical and mental health of children and adults. Children and young people looked after by foster families have often come from a family dynamic that may have negatively affected their mental health, self esteem and self confidence. Exploring nature can help these children to grow and develop and begin to overcome the negative influence of their past experiences.
In this blog post we are sharing 3 of the mental health benefits children and families can experience when they regularly spend time outdoors together. Spring has all but arrived, why not get out in the fresh air and soak up all the goodness of nature with the children in your life.
How much time should a child spend outside?
Ever since screens entered the home, research has seen a decline in the number of hours children are spending outdoors in nature. Older generations will recall childhood memories of climbing trees, riding bikes and spending entire weekends playing outside with their friends. As technology has advanced, there has been a shift in how children spend their time and the balance has tipped towards screentime.
Playing on screens has its place in childhood. There are many educational apps and games that can help children develop children’s reading and mathematical skills, for example. Certain video games can encourage creativity and really tap into your child’s imagination. However, time spent on screens is often time sat still slumped on the sofa, or hunched over in a chair. Children will not thrive when they spend hours in a sedentary position, staring at a virtual world.
The NHS recommends that all 5 to 18 year olds spend at least one hour a day exercising. This hour should be made up of aerobic exercise and bone and muscle strengthening activities. When playing outside, children can meet this quota without even really trying, their daily exercise needs can easily be met through play and exploring in nature. Toddlers require more daily physical activity, if you are caring for a young child, the guidance is to encourage at least 3 hours of physical activity a day, with some of the time spent outside.
How does outdoor play help emotional development?
Research has found that children who spend more time outside are happier. This can be linked to several factors. When you spend more time out in nature, you are exposing yourself to more vitamin D. It is thought that many people in the UK are deficient in Vitamin D and the more time we spend outside in the sunlight the better.
Children who spend time outdoors regularly are also believed to be happier, less anxious and more attentive than children you spend the majority of their time on screens. Playing outside has also been found to reduce the stress hormone, cortisol. When children are allowed to play freely in nature, their stress levels are reduced and their self-esteem will get a boost too.
As well as helping children to develop their fine and gross motor skills and strengthening their muscles and bones, outdoor play can improve a child’s cognitive development too. Children who play in nature will develop problem solving skills, resilience and when their imagination is sparked, their creative side will flourish too.
Benefits of spending time in nature for children and families
We believe (and research proves) that healthy bodies equal happier and healthier minds. This is why we are so passionate about encouraging our carers to spend more time outdoors with the children and young people that they care for. We are delighted to be able to give all of our foster families the opportunity to spend more time connecting and exploring in nature.
Here are just 3 of the many benefits of spending time outdoors for children and young people:
Connection – Have you ever sat at home and noticed every person in the house is just staring at a different screen? The adults may be on their phones, a toddler is on the iPad, a child is watching TV and a teenager is upstairs playing on their game console. Time alone is important, but it is also important to spend screen free time together as a family unit. Getting outside means you are coming away from the distracting screens in the home. You won’t find a TV at the top of a tree of a Playstation in the walls of a castle. When you spend time in nature together, you can pay more attention to each other, share the experience of exploring somewhere new and have the time to really engage and connect.
Grow self-confidence – Children in foster care may come from a background experience that has affected their self-confidence, self-esteem and self-worth. If a child has grown up with the message they can’t do something, they are not strong enough, they are weak and worthless, they are likely to develop a mindset that verifies these comments. A great way to encourage a child to come out of their shell and grow in confidence is to encourage outdoor play. Ball games, races, climbing, these are all examples of outdoor activities you can enjoy together with children that will help to boost their self-confidence. Giving children to challenge themselves, to make mistakes and to learn from them, will help them to grow and begin to realise their true potential.
Develop curiosity – A National Trust or English Heritage membership will provide the children you care for with the opportunity to experience new places for the first time, to explore places they never even knew existed. You can visit castles, beaches, ancient woodlands and historic buildings. There are hundreds of sites across the UK you can visit that will ignite the imagination of the young people in your life. A trip to a castle may end up in hours of imaginative play, running around pretending to be a jousting knight or a dragon, a jester or a monarch. When a child really connects with a place or experience, they will want to find out more. Once that curiosity has been sparked, the possibilities of the imagination are endless. Time exploring new places will help a child’s physical health, mental health and may even be the reason they develop a new passion or hobby.
Want to find out more?
If you are one of our approved foster carers, we will be in touch with regards to this gift of a National Trust or English Heritage annual membership. If you are currently going through the assessment process, this is something to look forward to if you are approved.
Are you thinking about joining our independent fostering agency? We are a supportive team, as well as this new membership gift, we also offer 24 hour support, training and we organised events throughout the year for all of our foster families to connect.
To find out more about fostering and how to become a foster carer with our independent fostering agency, please read the following pages on our website:
Types of foster care.
Who can foster?
How to become a foster carer with Focus Foster Care.
Fostering – frequently asked questions.
The benefits of fostering with Focus Foster Care.