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Nature-based Learning Environments Promote Healthy Childhood Development in Texas

Did you ever have a fascination with bugs as a kid? Do you remember what it was like to chase them around in relentless efforts to catch them? As a kid I was fascinated with the grasshoppers that lived on my parents’ property south of San Antonio. Handfuls of them would take flight or jump out of my path with each step as I stalked them in my backyard. I would catch them with my bare hands, and sometimes use a butterfly net to catch as many as I could and compare them all. Even when I couldn’t see them, I knew they were there by the “singing” sounds they made. Learning and playing in nature kept me busy and kept me moving.

What children experience in their early years has a significant impact on their brain development, and therefore their physical and mental health, as well as learning and behavior, into adulthood. For example, children with obesity are more likely to have obesity as adults, and adults with obesity go on to be at higher risk for a wealth of other health problems, including heart disease, type 2 diabetes and many types of cancer.

As our children stay indoors and spend more time playing on digital devices, their time spent sedentary increases. Inactive behavior is a significant contributor to childhood obesity, which now affects more than 1 in 5 U.S. children ages 2-5 years old.

The good news is that taking children outside to let them learn and play in nature helps promote healthy childhood development. Children not only become physically healthier, but can also build mental and emotional health, social skills and cognitive abilities needed to thrive in life.

The Texas Department of State Health Services has developed a statewide initiative to encourage healthy childhood development in early years (ages 0-5) through designing outdoor learning environments (OLE) in early childhood centers to increase active play in nature and food awareness for obesity prevention. The effort, known as OLE! Texas, has demonstration sites in Austin, Harris County and San Antonio.

Additionally, Nature Explore has established more than 30 certified Nature Explore Classrooms across Texas in places like schools, nature centers, libraries and early childhood centers, which help nature become an integral part of children’s every day play and learning experiences.

By design, these programs seek to fuse the many benefits of active play and nature and help promote healthy childhood development in Texas.

Find places and activities outside where your kids can chase bugs, play and get moving at NatureRocksTexas.org. Help them explore and connect with nature near you.