It’s becoming increasingly clear that most people in the USA spend too little time in the nature and it’s taking a toll on our mental and physical health. Do a quick Google search and you’ll find study after study shows how important unstructured outside time is for kids (adults too!) in terms of reducing stress. There’s also a growing movement of medical professionals who are prescribing more time in nature to treat stress, depression, attention deficit disorder and more.
While adults may make a conscious choice to either embrace the outdoors or not, children are guided by the adults in their lives by the attitude prevalent in the community. In areas where adults deem the outdoors unsafe, either due to an unsafe neighborhood or perhaps a fear of nature, kids spend the majority of their time indoors. This leads to obesity, more time on screens, and less time getting the benefits of being outside.
What are the benefits? Some might surprise you, others seem obvious.
- Playing in the dirt exposes kids to a variety of bacteria, germs, and viruses, which promote a healthier immune system and has been shown to reduce stress.
- Exposure to Vitamin D – it’s impossible to get an adequate amount of Vitamin D through diet, so playing outdoors is vital to maintain healthy bones and teeth, along with other possible benefits from enough of this nutrient.
- Physical fitness – have you ever seen a child sitting inert outside? Perhaps, but generally there is ongoing movement and exploration, leading to healthier bodies and increased creativity. Both those factors can also lead to better academic achievement, so it’s a multiple win.
- More comfort in nature – we’ve all seen the kid who will pick up every snake, bug, and other icky being, as opposed to the children who are squeamish about all of the above. Getting them outside gets kids into their own local ecosystem, which leads to learning local flora and fauna, making them more comfortable with what they experience.
- Improvement in vision – kids outdoors have better vision, perhaps due to exposure to sunshine and/or natural light. Of course adults should take care to protect young eyes, as too much exposure to sun, wind, or airborne particles will harm kids’ vision.
So….you believe that getting kids outdoors is important, but you don’t know where to start. First off, just going into your front or back yards is sufficient to expose kids to the outdoor environment and give them places to explore. The further afield you explore, the more variety, the more benefits.
If you’re looking for more ideas, whether it’s for your child or for a group, there are plenty of books and websites that can help. Two I’d recommend are The Swiss Army Knife Book: 63 Outdoor Projects by Felix Immler (Quarto Publishing Group USA) and The Get-Outside Guide to Winter Activities by Andrew Foran, Kevin Redmond, and TA Loeffler (Human Kinetics).
Immler’s book is full of bushcraft activities that, for the most part, can be completed by most age groups, depending on the comfort level with knives. From simpler things like a broom to more complex items like a shelter complete with bed, Immler shows step-by-step how to get things done. From gathering the bushcraft materials, to specific instructions on how to put them together, Immler’s book could easily fill an entire season or more with projects for the whole family.
Winter especially is a tough time to come up with activities that the whole family can participate in. The Get-Outside Guide gives not only ideas for family time, but for larger, mixed-ability groups as well. The book covers preparation, safety considerations, and proper gear for winter activities. Some of the ideas included can be enjoyed in your yard or a local park, while others venture further afield, so the book grows along with your comfort level.
However you do it, find time to get kids outside. Even though they may not realize it, they are reaping a whole host of benefits that will help them in many aspects of their loves.
*Books provided for editorial purposes – all opinions are my own.