Why Being Outdoors is Neurologically Better for Children

playing outside

Outdoor time for kids is continually decreasing. Kids have a lot of things to do indoors, everything from video games to learning computer coding to organized sports can keep them busy and keep them inside. A lot of those things are really good for kids, but it’s important to keep a balance. Getting outdoors is essential for everyone, but especially for kids. They need to play!

Free Play is the Foundation

Free play is hard to come by these days. We put our kids in programs and organized sports, and that’s a good thing! But it can’t be all they do. Free play is a time where adults have zero say in what the kids are doing and don’t interfere unless necessary. This means when the kids go to the playground, the parents sit down and don’t interfere. In many cases, it’s the parent’s perceived view of danger that limits kids’ ability to have free play. In free play, kids can climb up the slides, make up stories and even form a spur of the moment football game.

Whatever issues arise become the kids’ responsibility to deal with. If there’s an argument over the game, they have to work it out themselves. This helps kids practice social interactions and gain confidence in how they deal with other people. It lets kids establish their sense of self in a way that’s relatively safe and before the rest of their lives will depend on it!

It Brings Awareness to All Senses

Playing outside engages all of the senses. It requires a lot of gross motor movement, thinking ahead and manipulation of the environment. Letting kids play outdoors, including play that can be a bit risky, is one of the best things you can do for them. Engaging all of the kid’s senses, including the ones that go beyond the primary five, is vital. This is how kids learn to balance, walk backward, and develop an understanding of risk versus reward. All of these are vital to existing in the adult world.

One of the best ways to help kids do this is just to get them out there. You can make it a family event. Maybe take a camping trip. You might think this is a joke, but it’s not. Spending an extended amount of time in the woods means kids can get used to it and start exploring their abilities. The parents can watch and learn just how much their children can do. They can learn how to do a lot of things like build a fire, set up a hammock and put up a tent. This all improves gross motor skills and balance, making it vital for boys and girls of all ages.

Reduces Childhood Obesity

The best way to reduce the chance of obesity is to encourage your children to live an active lifestyle. Organized sports can play an essential role in that, but once kids reach adulthood, they may lose that kind of opportunity. Knowing how to hike, camp, rock climb and build forts in the woods are free, fun activities that can keep kids healthy until they become great-grandparents!

Studies have found that children who play outside for less than one hour a day on weekdays are more likely to be overweight or obese compared to kids who spend more time outdoors. A big part of that is that indoor play tends to be less active. It has a focus on fine motor skills. While those are important, gross motor skills are what create an active lifestyle.

May Help with Eyesight

Nearsightedness, also called myopia, is a common disability. It often runs in families and has the simple fix of an annual eye exam and glasses prescription. Even though it’s common, there are some indications that it can be made worse by spending a great deal of time indoors. One study done by the American Academy of Ophthalmology (AAO) found that each hour spent outside reduced the risk of nearsightedness by about two percent.

The more time spent outside, the more kids’ eyes have to focus on things farther away. This gives their close-range vision a break and allows the eyes to practice focusing on targets at different distances. Both of these things are recommended ways to reduce eye strain for adults who work on computers. Spending time outside allows a chance to run around in the sun with proper lighting.

Getting kids out and running around isn’t just good for them. It’s good for their parents, the planet and their friends. The more you can encourage your kids to get out, the more they’ll ask their friends. If you work at it, you might just start a trend!

About the author: Emily Folk works as a freelance conservation and sustainability writer. To see more of her work, check out her blog, Conservation Folks, and follow her on Twitter. Photo by michael podger on Unsplash

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