All children should spend time in nature

I stopped for a moment during my hike in Tyresta National Park to enjoy the magnificent view of the shadows of the pine trees on the lake. But even more so I enjoyed the absolute silence. At that moment I felt at one with nature. Just outside of the largest Scandinavian City, I wondered why so few were there. Perhaps it is just that Sweden has so much nature that everybody spreads out thinly over all that beauty.

Sweden is a wonderful country where many kids grow up close to nature. Bad weather is not seen as an excuse to keep preschoolers inside all day, and they spend many hours outside when the weather is nice.

A disturbing UK study concluded more than 10 percent of their children had not set foot in any natural environment for at least 12 months. That was not only defined as national parks or forests, even visiting a beach or a park counted as natural environment. American children through high school and college spend an average of seven hours on cell phones computers, gaming and tv screens.

What does this mean for those kids, as well as for our society? Kids should not grow up in concrete. Many studies have shown that spending more time in nature benefits the social, academic and physical health of children. If we want to understand the impact that a rapidly changing natural environment will have upon our lives in this century, the least we can do is to make sure that the next generation knows what nature actually is. Children experiencing nature during outdoor sports, playing with animals, engaging with each other, hiking, swimming or boating, are more likely to develop into adult stewards of the natural environment.

A picture of these shadows of trees on a frozen lake in a beautiful forest is not just a screensaver. It is real, it is out there. I took these pictures just half an hour driving from central Stockholm (and add a few hours hiking). A public bus brings you there. Leave the video games and go outside to build your campfire at one of the public fireplaces overlooking the lake.

All children should spend some time in nature, and parents, teachers and governments can help. For instance by protecting national parks and open them for free to the public.