Many of us in Malaysia live in urban areas with limited access to nature. It is often challenging to find opportunities to enable them to experience nature's wonderous beauty and bounty.
The enviroment in which my children are growing up in is very different from the one in which I grew up in - they are not exposed to nature in the same way that I was when I was growing up. They’ve never, for example, climbed a tree and spent an afternoon in its branches. Even though I try to get them back into nature as much as is possible given the concrete jungle that we live in, I can’t help but feel it isn’t enough.
We could argue that it is a different, modern world that our children are growing up in and we have to adapt to the new environment, but there are plenty of reasons why it is important to maintain our children's links to nature. Here are some compelling reasons why it's important to get the kids outdoors for a bit of fresh air and sunshine. Research shows that children who regularly experience nature:
- are healthier
- are happier
- perform better in school
- suffer less from symptoms of attention-deficit disorders
- have improved resistance to stress and depression
- have higher self-esteem
Direct exposure to nature also provides the following health and developmental benefits:
- it stimulates cognitive development and creativity
- it reduces likelihood of developing myopia
- it reduces likelihood of developing childhood obesity
Nature's Postitive Impact on Cognitive Functioning
Exposure to nature can have a postive impact on cognition. There is a theory called the Attention Restorative Theory (ART) which follows the premise that individuals are able to concentrate better after spending time immersed in nature. This includes physically being in nature as well as looking at images of natural scenes. The fast-paced environment that we live in makes constant demands on executive attention to switch between tasks, maintain task goals, and inhibit irrelevant actions or cognitions. This taxes our executive attentional system and depletes our ability to remain focused. ART suggests that regular interactions with nature can help to replenish these depleted attentional resources.
According to a study “Creativity in the Wild: Improving Creative Reasoning through Immersion in Natural Settings“, four days of immersion in nature increased performance on a creativity, problem-solving task by 50% in a group of hikers.
This reminds me of a child I heard about who was struggling in third grade school despite attending after-school tuition daily and Saturday school. The extra classes were intended to help him perform better in school but he was still failing. He spent the entire day either in school or attending extra classes. When he was home, he was either having a meal or in bed. Perhaps what he needed wasn’t more classes but some time in nature to restore his depleted attentional resources. It is likely that he was struggling with school work because he was too tired to concentrate on learning new material. If you think about it, those are pretty intensive working hours. Who wouldn’t feel mentally fatigued?
Getting your Kids to Explore the Great Outdoors
If you live in an urban, concrete jungle like we do, what can you do you to help your children retain their links to nature?
There are obviously security issues that prevent them from having the freedom to explore on their own. Gone are the days when people could leave their doors unlocked and children could run around unsupervised outdoors.
What can we do to ensure our children do not grow up oblivious to the beauty that nature has to offer and that they benefit from the positive impacts that being in nature imparts?
Kuala Lumpur in particular is full of great outdoor parks such as theLake Gardens, FRIM and the Bukit Nanas Forest Reserve, as well as countless playgrounds and recreational areas.
There are also places like the Kuala Lumpur Bird Park and Buttefly Park that give kids the chance to have fun and educational experiences outdoors.
Further afield, Malaysia is home to world-class islands and lush rainforests. Granted, taking a trip to these requires some planning but it is well worth the effort.
So what are you waiting for? Get yourself and your kids off the couch and out the door to expore the wonders of nature.