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While we all know kids love spending time outside, a lot of us as parents wonder if we should be keeping them as close as possible or letting them have a bit of fun in the yard. No, you shouldn’t leave your kids unattended but you should be willing to give them a bit of freedom. 

A somewhat new study seems to suggest that kids overall need to spend time alone with nature so that they can understand or bond with it more properly. The more alone they are with themselves taking in the things around them the better when it comes to this kind of thing. This study was published at the end of July in The Journal of Environmental Education and it’s worth looking over if you’re interested. 

According to North Carolina State University, their researchers reported that they found social activities can help ‘cement the bond between children and nature.’ By doing things like fishing, hunting, or even just exploring they are able to gain more in regard to the ‘mental and physical benefits linked with being outdoors.’ I know, that might not sound like much but bear with me. 

The abstract of this study goes as follows:

Connection to nature (CTN) can help promote environmental engagement requisite for addressing extreme environmental challenges. Current generations, however, may be less connected to nature than previous ones. Spending time in nature can counter this disconnect, particularly among children. In relation to CTN, this study evaluates the relative predictive power of solitary and social time in nature, specific recreation activities (e.g., camping), and diverse backgrounds (e.g., ethnicity) through a classification tree analysis with 9-to-12-year olds in the southeastern USA (n = 1,285). Solitary time in nature was the most important predictor of high CTN, and social time in nature was a secondary component of high CTN. In addition, in the context of this study, hunting and fishing were the most important activities predicting high CTN. Based on these results, we suggest providing solitary outdoor activities reinforced by environmental socialization to promote CTN for all.

As noted in the abstract this study goes over the power of both solitary and social powers when it comes to being in nature. Solitary time in nature out of the two was the ‘most important predictor of a high connection to nature and that is something I feel we should have expected. When I am in nature alone, I feel very much soothed, and even from a young age that was the case which I am sure many can agree.

North Carolina State University wrote as follows on this study and the findings from it:

For the study, researchers surveyed 1,285 children aged 9 through 12 in North Carolina. The survey focused on identifying the types of activities that help children build a strong connection to nature, which they defined as when children enjoy being outdoors and feel comfortable there.

The researchers asked children about their experiences with outdoor activities such as hunting, fishing, hiking, camping, and playing sports, and their feelings about nature overall. The researchers then used children’s survey responses to assess which activities were most likely to predict whether they had a strong connection to nature.

While they found that children who participated in solitary activities such as hunting or fishing built strong connections to nature, they also saw that social activities outdoors, such as playing sports or camping, helped to cement the strongest bonds that they saw in children.

“We saw that there were different combinations of specific activities that could build a strong connection to nature; but a key starting point was being outside, in a more solitary activity,” Stevenson said.

The finding that solitary activities were important predicators of strong connections to the natural world wasn’t surprising given findings from previous research, said Rachel Szczytko, the study’s first author. She was previously an environmental education research assistant at NC State, and now works at the San Francisco-based Pisces Foundation.

These findings overall suggest we need to allow children to spend time alone in nature more often when possible. While you should still keep an eye on them, you should also be willing to let them do their own thing with your eyes on them from a distance depending on their age. Just like everyone else kids need time to think and their own space which also is important.

Do you think your children could use more ‘alone time’ in nature or are they already getting enough? I for one think this could be something we need to talk more about. Regardless, showing your kids how to have fun outside in the world mother nature has built for us is important.