Springtime just makes me want to play outside. I want to explore everything that’s new, smell all the fresh flowering blooms and listen to every new birds’ song.
This is what inspired me for this month’s lesson, “Let’s Go Outside & YoPlay”.
“On average, American children spend four to seven minutes a day in unstructured outdoor play compared to seven or more hours in front of a screen.”
-Sanford Health News
We have lived in many places since having kids and not all places are created equal when it comes to outdoor activities. Some places we really had to get creative when it came to getting our nature fix. But for the past month and a half, we have been fortunate enough to be living in Santa Fe, NM and have been hiking every weekend. We may have also caught some time on the trails mid-week between homeschool lessons too. My favorite part is that we are nowhere near repeating a path, Santa Fe has so much to offer when it comes to outdoor activities.
I will tell you that when we are hiking, skiing, snowshoeing or biking outdoors not only do I feel more connected to nature but it also gives me the recharge I need. I feel rejuvenated and connected to myself and more importantly to my family. My kids open up more, chat with me unsolicitedly and share their thoughts and ideas as we stroll down a hiking trail.
I knew that if I felt this good and saw the ease of my kids, there truly was something to the benefits of outdoor play and the connection with nature. So I did a little research and found these five reasons why kids need more time in nature.
5 Reasons Why Kids Need Time in Nature
- It improves them physically. This makes sense right? Time spent outside means more running, jumping, digging and climbing. Outside play encourages nature exploration, play, and movement. Not only are they getting Vitamin D but the sunlight improves their long distance vision and being out in the fresh air and being active helps them with having better sleep habits.
- Being out in nature supports children’s creativity, cognitive functioning as well as social/emotional development through unstructured play. Research shows that children are more creative when they spend time in nature.
- Outdoor playtime improves sensory skills. There is so much to learn by things we see (animals, insect etc..), smell and touch like fragrant flowers, by hearing the crunch of fallen leaves beneath our feet or raindrop that form puddles and taste, eating a parent-approved berry. Being glued to the TV or tablet only uses 2 senses hearing and sight.
- Time outside in nature increases attention spans, therefore reducing stress and decreasing depression & anxiety.
- Increased happiness and better immunity. Being outside in natural sunlight stimulates the pineal gland which is vital in keeping our immune system strong and making us feel happier.
“Children spend half the time playing outside compared to their parents.”
Why are our kids outside less?
- Technology is the biggest headline for this. Children are bombarded with new ways to occupy their time with electronics; the newest app or video game or latest video to stream. But it would be too simple to say it is all the fault of technology.
- As suburbs and exurbs continue to expand, nature is parceled off more. Parks and open space is decreasing. Kids seem less inclined to spend time in a fenced-in yard, let alone jump the fence into a neighbor’s or walk in the woods. Instead, indoor activities can seem easier (no sunscreen necessary!), and safer.
- Part of it is fear based. Parents fears about diseases and the dangers of playing outside are a big factor.
“…in the last two decades, childhood has moved inside. The average American child spends as little as 30 min. of unstructured outdoor play each day and 7 hours in front of electronics.” Child Mind Institute
How to get outside more
- Limit indoor time. Setting limits on electronics. Create an environment that is diversified in activities
- Feeling protective of our kids is natural. But I don’t’ think there has been a child that has escaped childhood without some scrapes or bruises. Kids are more resilient than you think. Create some rules for outdoor play, like not running out into the street or off with a stranger are certainly givens. But giving them some independence to figure a few things out is part of childhood development and they should asses their own risks and make mistakes within parameters.
- Make outdoor time FUN! Remember back to your childhood days and what you found so fun to do outdoors. Let their creativity bring outdoor play to life like forts and treehouses, that’s the stuff of childhood dreams.
“Look deep into nature, and then you will understand everything better.”
One of our favorite activities to do while being outside is collecting various items we find in nature and creating a nature mandala. It’s really fun to look for unique objects and gather them along the way. Whether it has been collecting seashells on the shores of Nova Scotia or Florida, pine cones and twigs in the foothills of the Himalayas in Bhutan or rocks varied by shape, size and color in the desert of the SouthWest or even recycled materials found in our backyard wherever it may be as we travel and explore the world outdoors .
Let’s not make outdoor play part of our past but as a daily present activity. Start adding a little more outdoor fun to your everyday. If you want some ideas of how to incorporate some fun outdoor time with your kids check out our lesson plan this month “Let’s Go Outside and YoPlay”. It brings a little yoga, some mindfulness, a lot of playfulness to the great outdoors. So grab your sneakers, hiking boots or just go barefoot and get outside even for just 5 minutes a day. Notice the changes in your mood, energy, awareness, and gratitude for nature.