Before the days when a device was in everyone's hands nearly every waking moment, kids spent a lot of time being bored. This wasn't necessarily a bad thing.
Today, this unfortunate psychological state can be avoided by merely unpocketing one's phone, pulling up Instagram or Snapchat and sharing selfies and snaps ad nauseam with others who bolster or deflate egos according to how many likes they get.
But boredom--back in the day--also enticed kids outdoors. Here's some of what I remember:
- Playing tag barefoot and frantically running for safety at a place designated as "gool"
- Swinging on those tippy metal swings people used to have in their backyards before safety-at-all-costs led to their demise
- Riding bike for miles to see a friend--without a helmet--because it was the only means of transportation available
- And climbing trees because there was no parent around to be convinced a broken arm would result
(What cherished memories do you have about spending time outdoors as a kid? I'd love to read about them in the comments.)
Kids today spend half as much time outside as their parents did.
That's according to a survey conducted by the National Trust in the U.K. Nearly all of the 1,001 parents of children ages four through 14 who were polled said they believed spending time outdoors was good for kids. Yet, they also collectively reported their kids spend an average of only about four hours a week under the sun and clouds, compared with the more than eight hours they spent outside themselves when they were young.
Kids who spend more time outdoors have better health and social functioning.
Parents intuitively know this, which is why the command "Go outside and play" is something kids have been hearing for generations. But research conducted at the University of Sydney in Australia put data behind the notion that it's good for children and teens to spend time out-of-doors. Researchers followed more than 1,200 teens over five years, asking at ages 12 and again at 17 about how much time they spend on outdoor and indoor activities, as well as questions regarding their health, self-esteem, relationships with peers and school. They found that teens who were more active outdoors scored higher with regard to social functioning, whereas teens who spent more time being sedentary indoors more often reported feeling lonely and shy.
Other benefits exist, as well. According to the Child Mind Institute, nature is good for kids because it:
- Builds confidence and creativity when kids are able to navigate it with less structure than indoor play
- Stimulates more senses than playing video games, such as smell and touch
- Helps kids with ADHD focus by getting them moving
Researchers have also found that spending time in nature reduces the stress that comes from having to navigate distraction-full urban environments that fatigue children's brains.
Don't wait until high school to try to get them involved in outdoor sports.
If you'd like to see your kids spending more time outside breathing fresh air and moving their bodies, my advice would be to get them involved in outdoor sports early, so they can gain some skill and ability--as well as affinity and friends involved in the activity--before hitting high school. Worst case, they (or you) decide they should begin a sport as a teenager, and they can't make the team.
Lead by example.
The best way to get kids outside is to go with them. Plant a garden together. Take up a stargazing hobby with the help of this excellent book, written by the guy behind the Curious George series: The Stars: A New Way to See Them. Go hiking with something beautiful or awe-inspiring as your destination. Or take them fishing. (If you don't know how yourself, find someone who can teach you both--fishermen and women are enthusiastic about their hobby.)
What are your favorite ways to spend time outdoors with your kids?