Research has found a surprising range of benefits that are derived from frequent, unstructured play in diverse natural settings - exactly the kind of experiences that forest schools provide!
These benefits cover the entire realm of holistic child development:
Constant movement in natural terrain develops strength, coordination, and balance. It prevents sedentarism, obesity,
and myopia. Rich and varied natural movement stimulates brain development and improves posture, gross and fine motor skills. Sensory feedback from being barefoot on varied terrain especially helps to develop neuromuscular strength, and spatial awareness. Each and every part of our body requires movement to be healthy. Movement improves energy, circulation, and brings nutrients, oxygen, and cleansing lymphatic flow to the tissues.
Natural areas provide endless settings and stimulation for children's imaginations to flourish. They readily invent stories or create elaborate play scenarios--of perhaps explorers, farmers, settlers, or even scientists. Nature also provides endless craft materials and makes the perfect subject for painting or drawing. Extended time in nature provides opportunities for stillness, observation, reflection, and can stimulate a child's sense of beauty, appreciation, wonder, and awe.
Natural environments are stimulating, diverse, dynamic, and engaging for the brain and all the senses. They provide the perfect setting for play-based learning, sensory integration, and provide infinite subjects to study. They calm the nervous system, reduce stress, and facilitate deep concentration. Children who struggle with sitting still, focusing, or sensory processing improve in natural, outdoor learning environments.
Imaginative play builds skills in peer-to-peer communication, conflict resolution, negotiation, and literacy. Unstructured free play for extended time in nature promotes emotional resilience, independence, grit, self-confidence, self-awareness, self-regulation, and risk-assessment skills.
Exposure to the pheromones and chemicals that plants and trees emit has been shown to boost the immune system! Time in nature surrounded by these scents can increases cancer-fighting "killer cells" for up to 14 days! Exposure to natural sunlight increases vitamin D levels--a powerful immune-boosting nutrient most of us are deficient in.
Exposure to diverse microflora from interacting with soils, plants, and animals has been shown to improve microbiome health and diversity. Eighty percent of our immune system resides in the gut, and the more diverse our microbiome is, the stronger our immune system will be. Also, outdoor "classrooms" spread fewer germs than indoor classrooms. The fresh air, sunlight, and ample space help prevent the spread of germs between children and on surfaces.
People who spend ample time moving outside in the sunlight have improved sleep and circadian rhythms. Circadian rhythms guide all bodily processes and an out-of-sync circadian rhythm--due to lack of time outside in sunlight and exposure to artificial light after sunset--has been shown to be a powerful predictor of depression, anxiety, insomnia, diabetes, weight gain, ASD, ADHD, Alzheimers, and a range of diseases of the mind and body.
Barefoot time in nature has the added benefit of reducing inflammation, pain, and stress.
Natural environments, away from crowded cities, also have less air pollution and little or no electrosmog--electromagnetic frequencies and radio frequencies--such as from power lines, cell towers, and/or personal devices.
This is a fabulous book about the importance of time spent in nature for children. It also highlights the current decline of nature interaction in childhood.
This book is a refreshing antidote to indifference and a guide to capturing the simple power of discovery that Carson views as essential to life.