Posted Apr 24, 2019
Earth Day – Arbor Day – Greening Grass – Budding Trees – Longer Days – All invitations to get outside and play. Unfortunately, too many children – and adults – are ignoring the call of the great outdoors. Recent studies indicate the average American child spends 5 – 8 hours a day in front of a screen, but only 4 – 7 minutes a day engaged in active outdoor play.
This trend is hurting our children in subtle, but significant ways. Time spent in nature nurtures children’s physical, mental, and emotional health. Lack of outdoor play time is seen as a detriment to a child's development and well-being. Author Richard Louv labeled it “nature- deficit disorder” in his book Last Child in the Woods. The National Wildlife Federation initiative, Green Hour, recommends parents give children a minimum of an hour of unstructured outdoor play every day. Some pediatricians are even writing prescriptions for unstructured outdoor play to emphasize its importance in a child's life.
So what’s so "great" about the great outdoors? Numerous studies have shown nature play provides many benefits such as
- Improved Physical Health including lower obesity levels, improved fitness levels, better sleep, stronger vision and bones
- Improved Cognitive Health including increased focus and attention span and improved problem-solving skills resulting in improved school performance
- Improved Emotional Health including decreased incidences of anxiety, hyperactivity, and depression and increased self-confidence
Outdoor play also provides multi-sensory experiences and fosters creativity, imagination, and respect for the environment and wildlife. Group outdoor play encourages cooperation and meaningful social interactions.
Outdoor play can take place in the backyard, a neighborhood park or a natural setting like the woods, lakefront or riverbank. It can be as simple and spontaneous as a walk or planned and continuous like a gardening project. While some experts believe natural settings provide the most meaningful experiences, all agree children will benefit from more unstructured time outdoors. So gather the kids, step outside, and let nature take its course.
For more information on the benefits of nature play and ideas on ways to enjoy outdoor time -