Activist, child mentor and avid outdoor enthusiast Rena Margules emphasizes the importance of time in nature for child development.
Screen time is beginning to dominate outdoor time for children in developed countries around the world. Child mentor and outdoors-woman Rena Margules seeks to inform parents and children of the importance of time spent in nature versus time spent indoors, especially watching TV or using smartphones and other electronics.
Harvard University Biologist Edward O. Wilson discussed his theory of biophilia in the 1980s. This theory said that humans — children and adults alike — are drawn to their natural surroundings instinctively, and argument that Rena Margules continues to get behind. However, looking around most living rooms in 2020, this can be difficult to believe, as entire families sit, gazing into handheld screens.
Rena Margules and fellow child development enthusiasts are working to express the importance of outdoor play and its affect on a child’s physical, social, emotional, and intellectual development.
“Nature stimulates the senses in a way that being indoors cannot,” Rena Margules says. “Nature offers new textures, sights, sounds, and smells. Children have authentic learning experiences in nature, whether they’re problem-solving, being creative, or simply discovering with their senses.”
According to the Child Mind Institute, the average American child is currently spending 7 minutes or less per day playing outdoors. The average child is also spending more than 7 hours a day looking at a screen of some kind.
That means they’re missing out on the many benefits of playing, and ultimately learning, in the outdoors. Rena Margules argues that when kids are behind screens, they’re lacking the authentic learning experiences offered by nature.
“Activities like listening to birds chirp, building sand castles, jumping in puddles may seem like they’re just plain fun,” Rena Margules adds. “But these are major opportunities for brain building. In the outdoors, kids take risks, they stumble, they fail, and they try again until they succeed. When a child builds a sandcastle, and the waves wash it away, they learn to problem solve by building a wall or a moat.”
Development enthusiasts like Rena Margules argue that in addition to benefiting intellectual development, the outdoors encourages superior social, emotional, and physical development too. Running and playing outdoors often releases the anxiety, tension, and restlessness that keeps children from performing well in a classroom setting.
“When kids play outside, they relieve anxiety, burn more calories, and learn to work with others to create new games, solve problems, and share,” Rena Margules says. “These are essential parts of child development, and if we don’t start focusing on more outdoor time for our children, we will end up with a society that’s lacking some very important mental and physical tools.”