Playing Outside Develops Spiritual Connection in Kids

Photo Brittany Randolph/The Star Quniton Grier, 9, spends a Friday afternoon swinging underneath a tree in Kings Mountain. https://flic.kr/p/6rMN3rPlaying outside has always been a fun and natural part of a child’s upbringing. But new research suggests that playing outside for 5-10 hours a day can increase children’s spiritual connection with the environment.

Researchers Gretel Van Wieren of Michigan State University and Stephen Kellert of Yale University found that children who play in nature have more self fulfillment and purpose than those that do not. Children who played outside also said that they felt more connected to the earth and a responsibility to protect it. The findings were published in the Journal of the Study of Religion, Nature, and Culture.

Investigators researched children’s feelings towards nature, as well as their aesthetic values. Children who engage in free play outside on a regular basis have a deep appreciation for beauty (i.e., balance, symmetry, and color), order, and wonder (i.e., curiosity, imagination, and creativity). For example, children would be drawn to lush green bushes, pattern-like blue spots in water, and bees’ nests.

“It offers a diverse display of colors, sights, and sounds; uncertainty; multisensory qualities; and above all, aliveness,” said Van Wieren. “Nature is always in a state of flux, which fosters problem-solving opportunities that build self-confidence.”

Religious and family background may also help children develop a spiritual connection to nature. In the study, seven out of the ten children who participated were from families with a Christian background. And children who expressed the highest affinity toward nature and the strongest spirituality had parents who spent significant time outdoors during their childhoods.

With all the benefits outdoor play has on children — doing better in school, connecting to the environment, developing spiritually, having fun, and getting exercise — why are we letting them sit inside on their i-devices?

“This is the first generation that’s significantly plugged in to a different extent and so what does this mean?” Van Wieren said. “Modern life has created a distance between humans and nature that now we’re realizing isn’t good in a whole host of ways.”

Parents, teachers, and other authority figures have a responsibility to encourage children to play in nature and find opportunities for fun outdoor activities. It’s not only good for the children — it’s good for adults and future generations of kids. 

News Source: Psych Central

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About the Author

Gina Merlino is a freelance writer who cares about environmental issues. She has a Bachelor's in Philosophy, a Master's in Engaged Humanities, and is an avid reader of the news. You can find me on Twitter.