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It’s no secret that over the past couple of decades, outdoor play in childhood has declined dramatically. According to the NRPA, children today spend less time outdoors than any other generation with an average of only 4-7 minutes of unstructured outdoor play per day and an average of seven and a half hours per day in front of a screen. These are definitely sobering statistics and as a mother this is not how I want my children to spend their childhood.
I think as parents, we have to ask ourselves, how is this shift going to affect the future of our children and our society? The truth is, outdoor play has numerous health benefits because frankly children (and adults alike) were created to be outside breathing in the fresh air, running barefoot and climbing trees, not passively starting at a screen for hours on end.
One of the main reasons that we homeschool is so that my kids can have more freedom to play and be creative, especially in the outdoors. We strive to spend several hours per day outside and we’ve even been participating in the 1000 Hours Outside Challenge where you track your outdoor time and aim for 1000 hours by the end of the year.
Tracking our outdoor time has been a great motivator for me and the best thing is that since we’re spending so much more time outside, the kids screen time has naturally decreased as well. I’d love for you to follow me on Instagram to see how we do throughout the year with this challenge.
I’ve also been enjoying some books on the topic of the benefits of outdoor time for kids, including There’s No Such Thing as Bad Weather, Last Child in the Woods and Balanced and Barefoot.
Why am I reading so much about this topic??? The truth is, kids need lots of unstructured outdoor time to combat obesity, nearsightedness, anxiety, allergies and so much more. I believe it all starts with parents like you and me to stop the madness and make a change one childhood at a time. Read on for a list of some of the many benefits of outdoor play for children and decide for yourself if it’s worth it.
Improves Academic Performance
Time spent in nature, specifically unstructured time improves cognitive function, boosts Vitamin D levels, helps regulate sleep, improves memory and helps children think more clearly. All of theses benefits in turn, help children to do better in school.
Improves Physical Abilities
Children are more active when they’re allowed to play freely outdoors and learning how to physically navigate terrain such as hills, rocks, trees, etc. in nature helps to improve balance and fitness levels. The more children move, the healthier they will be and children are more likely to move more when they are outside.
Nearsightedness in children has been on the rise in developing countries for the past couple of decades, but the good news is that spending time outdoors in natural lighting as much as possible helps to protect children from developing nearsightedness.
Consistent exposure to natural light along with lots of physical activity helps to regulate sleep patterns in children. Therefore, time in nature helps to improve children’s time and quality of sleep each night.
Lowers Stress Levels
Time in nature has been proven to lower levels of stress, anxiety and depression in children (and adults). When children spend time outdoors, their levels of cortisol (the stress hormone) decrease while their levels of serotonin increases. Also, children who get more physical activity have higher endorphin levels making them happier and more relaxed.
Improves Social Skills
Children who participate in unstructured play outdoors with other children get lots of practice at creating and organizing their own games and working together in a group toward a common goal which improves social skills overall.
Outdoor play helps to improve and nurture creativity by allowing children to use what they have to make their own games and worlds outside without the use of many toys. Children are forced to use their imaginations to turn a pile of sticks into a campfire and a lump of mud into a pie. The possibilities for creativity are endless in nature.
These are only a few of the many benefits of outdoor play for children, but I hope it’s enough to convince you of the importance of getting outside and playing with your kids! What are you waiting for??