Playing outside could make kids more spiritual

Children who spend significant time outdoors could have a stronger sense of self-fulfillment and purpose than those who don’t, according to new Michigan State University research linking children’s experiences in nature with how they define spirituality.

In the study, published recently in the Journal of the Study of Religion, Nature and Culture, children who played outside five to 10 hours per week said they felt a spiritual connection with the earth, and felt their role is to protect it.

“These values are incredibly important to human development and well-being,” said Gretel Van Wieren, assistant professor of religious studies. “We were surprised by the results. Before we did the study, we asked, ‘Is it just a myth that children have this deep connection with nature?’ But we found it to be true in pretty profound ways.”

For example, the children in her study expressed feelings of peacefulness and some believed that a higher power had created the natural world around them. They also reported feeling awestruck and humbled by nature’s power, such as storms, while also feeling happy and a sense of belonging in the world.

The study also measured children’s aesthetic values, finding that those who engage in free play outside on a regular basis have a deep appreciation for beauty (i.e., balance, symmetry and color), order and wonder (i.e., curiosity, imagination and creativity). For example: lush green bushes, pattern-like blue spots in water and fascination with bees’ nests.

Van Wieren and co-researcher Stephen Kellert, from Yale University, used a mix of research methods, including in-depth interviews, drawings, diaries and observation, as well as conversations with parents. Seven of the 10 children in the study – who were 7 to 8 years old – were from families with a Christian background.

The researchers also found parents of the children who expressed the highest affinity toward nature and the strongest spirituality spent significant time outdoors during their childhoods. And many of the parents believed such experiences shaped their adult lives and spirituality.

So what is it about nature?

It offers a diverse display of colors, sights and sounds; uncertainty; multisensory qualities; and above all, aliveness, Van Wieren said. Nature is usually in a state of flux, which fosters problem-solving opportunities that build self-confidence.

But we could be in trouble if kids continue their technology habits, she said.

“This is the first generation that’s significantly plugged in to a different extent and so what does this mean?” Van Wieren said. “Modern life has created a distance between humans and nature that now we’re realizing isn’t good in a whole host of ways. So it’s a scary question: How will this affect our children and how are we going to respond?”

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50 thoughts on “Playing outside could make kids more spiritual”

  1. Humans evolved in the “real” world and all their physical and behavioural developmental processes should be dependent on the multi-sensory experiences that we are very far from achieving with technology.
    A very interesting study, and a caution to a new generation. Technology provided “experience” and learning in young children may well lead to spiritual and psychological “crippling”, or at least stunting, as the aforementioned artificial stimuli are lacking in “body’, something akin to processed foods versus whole foods written large!

  2. Children of today are so technology driven and rarely play outside. We forget that we are who we are because of our childhood. If you grew up in a house where your parents were reading every Sunday afternoon the odds is in your favour that you will grow up to be the same. So switch of the Disney channel and take your kid to a park and let him explore the world.

  3. I agree with the article because i think understanding nature lead to a better understanding of life. For one to understand nature one has to spend a lot of time outdoors exploring and wondering about the beauty of nature and I personally believe that when you connect with nature you connect with god and you sort of develop a better understanding of the world and it’s nature. In conclusion spending much time outdoors not only for relaxation but also for studying can give you some of the nature’s wisdom and develop you spiritually.

  4. I like the idea that letting children play outdoors could make them more spiritual, I believe if I was denied access to play outdoor i would be not healthy because most of kids those spend time indoor do not exercise. Fresh mind needs to interact with the environment , especially kids need to be given enough time outdoors to really define who they are..

  5. I agree with the article,there is a big difference between kids who spend most of their time outside with those who spend most of their time indoors. Spending much time outdoors can make you realize the importance of every living organisms and why we should take care of them. As it has been said spending time just viewing green vegetation can calm u. I think kids should get time to explore the earth they are living in. Playing outdoors can really make kids more spiritually. Many traditions also believe that kids who play outdoors are more healthier that those who play indoors. I think scientists should investigate about this to find out if playing outdoors play a big role in spirituality of kids.

  6. i agree that childhood is an important stage in ones life. Childhood and happiness should go hand-in-hand. playing should and does have a positive impact.
    u14122202’s grandmother is very right in saying that a playful child is a happy child.

  7. Childhood is a very important stage in one’s life. Thus the activities which children are exposed to, play a vital role in a child’s reasoning and actions. As my grandmother would say,”A playful child is a healthy one”, this emphasizes the significance of childhood development.

    Nature really does help children to engage spiritually in the sense that when children play outside they get to observe a lot of “Observable Objects”, as philosophers put it, and in so doing their minds fill up with curiosity and all sorts of questions as to how and why certain objects are as they are and also why certain things, like thunder and storms happen… With all these in place, the children gain answers and start linking to beauty of nature to the God who created everything through his word. In conjunction with the children’s religious background, the children now grow spiritually and are able to argue their thoughts.

    Thus allowing children to play more often should be greatly encouraged.

  8. No, no I disagree, I think it all depends on the surround environment around the kid,like family background,religion ,finances, crime,sports facilities and picnic parks, etc. Always
    indoors could also play a role, as long as the kid has what is she/he needs, like books ,toys ,video games,internet, good parental guidance , enough space etc

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