Children live through and learn from their senses. Sensory experiences—what they see, hear, taste, touch, and smell—connect their exterior world with their internal, affective world. The importance of this sensory learning may be why studies indicate that natural settings, which provide primary experiences for all the senses, are essential for healthy childhood development.

Here are just a few reasons to find time to enlarge your child’s world through free play in a green space . . .

The best predictor of preschool-age children’s physical activity is simply being outdoors. An indoor, sedentary childhood is linked to health problems.

Natural settings—green spaces—stimulate all of the senses. Being with nature means children see, feel, taste, hear, and smell for themselves. They experience the world directly.

Natural settings integrate informal play with formal learning. Much of our learning comes from doing, making, and feeling with our hands—experiences in nature offer first-hand, not second-hand, information.

Green spaces contain an abundance of information with the potential for limitless new discoveries.

Nature makes demands about paying attention, and green spaces capture attention.

Green areas nudge children to engage in more creative forms of play.

Nature experiences teach children about patterns and the process of regeneration.

Playing in a natural setting develops a capacity to go out and beyond ourselves.

Natural play strengthens a child’s self-confidence.

Because outdoor free play arouses the senses, children develop a deeper awareness of the world, including what can be seen and what is unseen.

One of the benefits of outdoor, green-space play is that it costs nothing.

More to consider:

Green spaces can be large or small—a park or a backyard, a wooded area, or a patch of weeds by the back porch. Nature presents us with an environment that helps us use all of our senses. Also, experiences with any piece of nature are a good reminder that there is a larger fabric on which we all depend and where we all connect.