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JULY 29, 2014 by MARCO TORRES
Structure Is One Of The Biggest Hindrances In A Child's Development, Especially Relating To Nature


Almost every aspect of society is influenced in some manner by how we class ourselves socially. Research proves there are positive effects of nature on children and their overall well-being. Nature can be attributed to creativity, better cognitive skills, lower obesity rates and a whole host of other beneficial reasons doctors are actually prescribing “time in nature” to their patients. In addition, recent studies indicate that not only nature, but letting children have free play away from structured programs, has a big impact on their overall health by what educators call executive function.

Executive function is a broad educational term used for many cognitive skills including organization, task initiation and the ability to switch between activities.

Children who have poor executive functioning, including many with ADHD, are more disorganized than other kids. They might take an extraordinarily long time to get dressed or become overwhelmed while doing simple chores around the house. Schoolwork can become a nightmare because they regularly loose papers or start week-long assignments the night before they are due.

According to a new study by psychologists at the University of Colorado, having free time to play has a direct and positive effect on executive functioning. Having positive executive functioning is an important predictor of school readiness, academic performance and positive life outcomes, including earning capacity and good health.

Unscheduled, Unsupervised Playtime Is Key

Our fear generated society has locked down most of what older generations used to take for granted. Especially, unscheduled and unsupervised playtime which these days gives the average soccer mom a heart attack.

According to Jessica Lahey, “Unscheduled, unsupervised, playtime is one of the most valuable educational opportunities we give our children.”

Children who have more time in free play, spontaneous activities, self-selected reading and more time in the natural world are found to have more highly developed executive function. According to Peter Grey a Boston College psychology professor, who studies the benefits of free play in human development and has written the book “Free to Learn: Why Unleashing the Instinct to Play Will Make Our children Happier, More Self-Reliant, and Better Students for Life,” he states:

Free play is nature’s means of teaching children that they are not helpless. In play, away from adults, children do have control and can practice asserting it. In free play, children learn to make their own decisions, solve their own problems, create and abide by rules, and get along with others as equals rather than as obedient or rebellious subordinates.

We give children the freedom to think outside the box they are in. They are so stuck in that box, that it takes a profound event to shake their reality so that they can at least see they're inside a box.

Children’s perspectives show that what young people ‘think’ is not necessarily what parents ‘think they think’. Parents tend to underestimate their own influence, but are also prone to take insufficient account of children’s feelings at times of emotional stress that often comes out of structure.

Policy-makers and commentators often blame ‘bad parenting’ for children’s and young people’s troublesome behaviour, but flexible adaptable parenting is more likely to be effective than a ‘one size fits all’ approach that comes with policy and structure. Kids are not robots and they are unique. If we want them to flourish, we must give them the space to be children.

Marco Torres is a research specialist, writer and consumer advocate for healthy lifestyles. He holds degrees in Public Health and Environmental Science and is a professional speaker on topics such as disease prevention, environmental toxins and health policy.

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