The average child spends more time indoors than at any point in history. Between Netflix, video games, and other high-tech crutches, there’s very little interaction with the outside world – and it’s having a negative impact.
Spending Time Outdoors: The Benefits for Kids
According to Sanford Health News, the average American child spends four to seven minutes per day in unstructured outdoor play. Compare that to seven or more hours of screen time and we get a bleak picture of what it’s like to be a child in today’s society.
The push for spending time outdoors isn’t something parents subjectively think is good – there’s objective, documented research to back up the notion that immersion in nature is highly beneficial. Sanford Health News points to benefits like:
- Greater cognitive and social/emotional development
- Enhanced sensory skills and the ability to experience the natural world in an unfiltered manner
- Lower risk of ADHD and greater attention spans
- Stronger immune system and lower risk of sickness and infection
- Lower stress and improved happiness and satisfaction
Practical Ways to Get Your Kids Outside
While your child may not be able to spend five or six hours outside every day, it’s imperative that they spend more than five or six minutes outdoors. Here are some surprisingly simple ways you can get your kids outside more frequently and more often:
Eliminate the Excuses
A child is pretty simple in the way they think and process information. There isn’t much complex decision making that goes into staying inside versus playing outside. They simply find the former option more compelling than the latter.
If you want your kids to play outside more often, you have to make indoor play less compelling and outdoor play more attractive. This starts by eliminating the excuses that keep them inside. Your children don’t need a video game system or TV in their rooms. You’re the one calling the shots, so why not get rid of them? Suddenly indoor play is a whole lot less compelling.
If you’re going to limit the number of options children have for indoor play, you have to provide some outdoor activities to fill their time and satisfy their need to be occupied. Here are a few suggestions:
- Kids love games. Having a few yard games on hand will give your children something to do. It’ll also teach them the value of learning and honing a skill. Cornhole is a great game for kids of all ages.
- Using a portable tent or shed to provide protection from the elements, set up creative stations in your backyard where kids can paint, draw, craft, or build things.
- Challenge your kids to become collectors of rocks sticks, leaves – anything that sparks their interest and curiosity.
- Encourage Freedom and Exploration
While there’s something to be said for providing fun activities for your children to do, there’s also value in encouraging freedom and exploration. Kids learn a lot about themselves when they’re provided the opportunity to try new things.
If you live on a large lot or have a few acres of raw land, this is a lot easier. But even if you’re in a residential neighborhood with limited space, there are opportunities for kids to get outside and explore. Let them loose – with some restrictions, of course – and see what they learn.
Invite Friends Over
According to a poll from the Nature Conservancy, 91 percent of children would spend more time outside if a friend encouraged them to do so. Thus, if you want your kids to play outdoors more frequently, you should start by inviting their friends over for play dates.
Give Them Chores
Boredom is bad news for a child. They’ll become disinterested in being outside, or worse, they’ll engage in mischievous behavior. In addition to providing some freedom to explore on their own, giving a child a handful of outdoor chores will give some structure to their time. Here’s a list of age-appropriate outdoor chores that kids may be assigned.
Set a Positive Example
At the end of the day, young children are far more likely to do something if they see their parents doing it as well. Set a positive example by cutting back on your own screen time and spending more time outside. The entire family will benefit.