Ask the mediatrician

February 28, 2013
Michael Rich

How can my kids experience nature when we live in a media-saturated city?

Dr. Michael Rich is a paediatrician and director of the Center on Media and Child Health at Children's Hospital Boston, Harvard Medical School and Harvard School of Public Health. Featured here is a recent Q&A published on Rich’s website (http://cmch.typepad.com/mediatrician/). The content is reprinted with permission of the author.

I live in a big city with my three-year-old son and one-year-old daughter. I’ve noticed that children who live in such cities spend a lot of time playing on cement playgrounds and on the Internet. I know that spending time in nature is good for children’s development—it’s difficult to take advantage of that given where we live.

Question: Do we need to take them to the country to get those experiences?

Answer: Although the Internet and playgrounds offer their own benefits, nature offers experiences and sensations that can’t be replicated or replaced by any human-made environments. For example, being in nature gives children a sense of connectedness to the outside world—they can watch clouds morph or a butterfly moving from flower to flower, and they can watch things unfold that are outside their control. This is a great experience to have at any age. But getting outside can be a challenge in areas where there are safety concerns or few public green spaces.

A visit to somewhere with more accessible outdoor areas—whether a farm or a national park or a town square—can be a wonderful experience for a child, but you can also help her notice the nature right where she lives. Cities often have parks where children can explore and play. Children can also bring nature into the home by planting flowers in window boxes, tending a terrarium in their room, or taking care of pets.

Integrating safe outdoor spaces and indoor nature into any child's life can help build her connection to nature, which supports healthy development. And it can help her learn to balance media time with the wonders of nature as she navigates through her modern world, no matter where she lives.