5 easy ways to raise an outdoors-loving child

Follow these simple strategies to kick-start your kiddo’s lifelong love affair with nature and having fun in open spaces.

Growing up in the 80’s, Asha Moorthy’s childhood days were filled with running around wide open spaces and using her imagination to conjure up new games.

“I still remember we had an old swing in our garden that my neighbours and I pretended was a time machine,” Asha, 36, recalls wistfully. “Everyone who got their turn on it was transported to a completely different time zone or universe. Oh, the fun we had!”

Now mum to Sarvesh, 3, and Suriya, 6, Asha wishes that her boys would enjoy the kind of childhood she had ― carefree days that were mostly spent outdoors. But instead of chasing butterflies or climb trees, her sons prefer staying indoors to play video games, reading books or watching TV. When her family ventures out, they tend to hop from one megamall to the next and the boys will get some exercise at an indoor playground.

“The weather can be really harsh sometimes, so we do tend to gravitate towards air-conditioned places. Now that my sons have grown up only knowing a lifestyle of indoor fun, I don’t even know how to go about introducing the outdoors to them,” laments Asha.

Unfortunately, Asha’s story is the norm in Singapore. More and more families are bringing their kids’ playtime indoors, so as to beat the heat or avoid dirt. However, what parents don’t realise is that our children are losing out a lot by not going out in the sunshine.

“The outdoors offers an environment perfectly shaped to develop human sensory skills.”

The importance of being one with nature

Childhood is the time when we get prepared for independent survival, even though we are very much a social species, notes parenting expert Cornelia Dahinten. “The outdoors offers an environment perfectly shaped to develop human sensory skills.”

When they are out in nature, kids are exposed to different types of flora and fauna and the also learn a whole host of skills that will come in handy as they grow up and into adulthood. Unstructured physical play, which is mostly done outdoors is also a great way to destress. 

“Playing in playgrounds are fundamental for healthy and competent human development. Games like climbing, running, hiding and playing balls teach kids skills such as anticipation and prediction, problem solving, risk assessment and learning how to overcome fear,” says Dahinten.

Climbing and running will also help junior increase his stamina and improve cardio vascular strength. When he’s playing with friends, your tyke will also learn cognitive skills such as how to position himself in a group or finding a solution everyone in the group is happy with it. Mastering these skills will make junior feel empowered and boost his confidence and self-esteem.

Another great reason to spend time in the open ― the health benefits associated with it. Being exposed to dirt boosts immune systems, children who spend more time outside are also at lower risk for developing myopia at a young age.

A quarter of Singapore children become short-sighted by age 10. According to a study by the Singapore Eye Research Institute and National University of Singapore, 70 per cent of Singaporean teenagers between the ages of 11 and 18 are myopic.

The rising incidence of myopia in children is linked directly to their spending less time outdoors. Concurring, Dahinten adds, “Your visual cortex needs the opportunity to look close and at a distance frequently and being outdoors helps with this.” So, junior’s eyesight will be affected if he doesn’t get enough opportunities to do so.