As parents, we are continually exposed to a barrage of parenting advice and 'must-dos'. With miles of Instagram feeds overflowing with activities, toys and benchmarks, it's little wonder we constantly worry if we're doing enough to support our little ones in their fundamental years.
We let out a huge sigh of relief after chatting to Hamish Tait, an early childhood educator of 10 years and Dad to two girls (Bodhi, 3, and Florence, 9 months). He is also the mind and heart behind 'Wild Earthlings', a nature focused playgroup based in Glenorie, NSW.
We guarantee you'll be sighing soon too. Hamish is here to remind us that supporting your little ones in their development is far more simple than social-media has you thinking.
Hamish's extensive experience with children of all ages in educational and natural settings has seen him gather a mountain of experience in the ways nature can support our little people as they go through life.
Early in Hamish's career, he noticed that children seemed more resilient, confident and understanding of their self worth.
"As time went on however, these things were harder to find. Children would lose control over the smallest inconvenience or the tiniest of scrapes", says Hamish.
He noticed a clear generational trend of children who were exhibiting lower levels of imagination, and a lack of self confidence and resilience.
"The number of children who didn’t know how to transfer their imagination to an open-ended resource such as a cardboard tube or a block was worrying".
Although other family or socio-economic factors may have contributed toward this, Hamish knew that there had been a larger shift, and believes a lessening of nature-based experiences in childhood was largely responsible.
According to Hamish, children have three domains of wellbeing which encompass every part of their development, - and nature-play caters to them all.
That's right, nature.
Grab a bevvy and read on to find out how nature can take the pressure off your parenting duties and literally co-parent your child into a caring, confident, and resilient little life explorer!
3 Ways Nature Promotes Wellbeing in Children
1. Nature Develops Physical Wellbeing
In nature, you find every kind of sensation; smooth, rough, gritty, sharp, lumpy, wet, squishy, hard…when children have access to these kinds of sensory experiences, they learn not only what things feel like, but what they can do with them.
Even things like temperature, rain, snow, heat and wind give children full body sensations and help them to know their entire body, leading to an understanding of their physical constraints, boundaries and capabilities.
Nature also beckons children to take risks which builds not only their strength, balance and coordination, but also their understanding of their bodies.
2. Nature Supports Mental Wellbeing
We all know of studies that have shown walks in the bush or swims in the ocean lower heart rate and stress levels. You don’t have to study that to feel it.
Growing up is a full-on endeavour and there is so much stress for children, especially right now. Giving children the space and time to not have this stress and regulate is absolutely vital.
With so many external influences on children, their minds need unconditional rest, and this is what nature can provide.
On the flip side, if a child is looking for inspiration, or needs stimulation, the natural world can provide. You only have to follow an ant home to begin a narrative in your head.
As well as this, nature can teach children to cognitively process what is around them. You only have to listen to a child ask questions on a bushwalk to know that they are born scientists. “What makes the bark shed off that tree? How long will it take for the caterpillar to turn into a butterfly? Why is the soil here different to the soil over there?”
All of the representations of science, maths, literacy and numeracy are easy to find for a child, and exploring these all enhance their problem solving, processing and understanding of unseen concepts.
3. Nature Nurtures Spiritual Wellbeing
I am a big believer in the spirit of the natural world, but spiritual wellbeing doesn't mean crystals and dancing naked around a fire.
It’s more about knowing yourself as a being.
For children, their idea of themselves in the first 10 years of their life will set them up to be the person they become. If their sense of self is positive, there will be positive outcomes down the track (pun intended).
Children have had revelations before my eyes when in nature, and although they can’t name it, they can feel it. I know that so many children will look back at what they did at Wild Earthlings and realise them to be formative moments.
A laugh shared when a bush shelter falls down is promoting resilience. Running through the rain encourages them to know that what is uncomfortable isn’t deadly.
Stepping on a stick, or pricking yourself on a thorn lets them know that they are part of what’s around them, if they can feel it, chances are that someone or something else can feel it as well. Lack of empathy is one of the greatest problems we face, and so many lessons in nature can teach it.
Basically, children who have regular engagement with the natural world are more whole because they have had the means to express and understand who they are, and more whole humans is exactly what we need.
The best part about all this? No toys or apps necessary - just a step outside and a snuggly pulover!
Thanks so much Hamish for taking the time to chat to us about the positive influence nature can have on childhood! We're off for that adventure!