Before we explain why kids need to get outside more, let’s first take a look at how much today’s children are really spending outside in unstructured play.
Today’s children are spending half as much time outdoors as their parents did just 20 years ago. According to a recent study by the University of Michigan, the typical American child age 6-17 spends an average of less than one hour per week participating in outdoor activities; that’s less than 8 ½ minutes a day. Coincidentally, or perhaps not so, in the past 20 years as outdoor time has decreased, the rate of childhood obesity has more than doubled, the United States has become the largest global consumer of ADHD medications, and antidepressants prescribed to children have speedily been on the rise. It’s not hard to see that this break with nature is significantly troubling, but the upshot is that there are easy and simple solutions to alleviate much of these concerns.
The good news is that it’s easy to help your kids lead happy, healthy lives – just tell them to go take a hike! Unrestricted outdoor play has been shown to improve the mind, body and spirit. It increases fitness levels and builds active, healthy bodies, as well as increasing the body’s vitamin D which helps to safeguard children from future diabetes and bone, heart, and other health problems. In addition, it has been shown to improve children’s vision and lower the chance of nearsightedness.
Then there are the cognitive benefits of outdoor play. Children who have more exposure to nature are often less symptomatic of ADHD, have better critical thinking and concentration abilities, higher test scores, better team and problem solving skills and enhanced creativity. Moreover, schools with environmental education programs produce higher scores on standardized tests in math, reading, writing and comprehension.
In terms of wellbeing, time spent in nature reduces stress levels within minutes of being outside in natural settings. Additionally, play boosts self-esteem and positive emotional development and unstructured playtime helps lower the possibility of anxiety and depression. As an added bonus, especially for parents, nature enhances social interactions and a sense of community and fosters close relationships, which all broaden children’s compassion and actually make them nicer, happier kids.
What’s not to love about nature and the great outdoors and why are you still inside reading this? Go outside and play with your kids. Make it a habit. Think about registering for the Great American Backyard Campout and getting outside with your neighbors too. The benefits are great for your kids, but can be equally rewarding for adults!