Fall is quickly approaching and the kiddos are heading back to school. And, unless your kids go to an alternative school or you homeschool, they are going to be spending a lot more time sitting behind closed doors. So it’s up to us to get our kids outside this Fall.
But what about recess? Don’t our kids get outside for recess? And don’t forget about PE.
Let’s be honest, recess is not what it used to be and neither is PE. In fact, many schools have cut out PE altogether and recess isn’t much better. You may remember having a ton of time to play with your friends on the playgrounds, in the fields, or on the courts (4-square, anyone?), but the sad fact is that the amount of time your child gets for recess is a lot less than you used to get.
So what does that mean? Simple, it means that you’ve got to lock your kids out of the house when they get home from school. And here’s why:
A few reasons to get kids outside this fall
1. Outdoor Play Increases Attention Span
Want your kids to be able to pay attention in school? Then you might want to increase how much time they spend outside.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, an estimated 6.4 million children between the ages of 4 and 17 have Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), which is a huge problem. But, studies have shown that exposure to natural settings, like parks and beaches through after-school and weekend activities, appears to reduce ADHD symptoms.
And if the outdoors is so great at increasing the attention span for children with ADHD, think how much better it works for children without ADHD.
2. Outdoor Play Reduces Stress & Fatigue
School, homework, after-school activities, and tests can all add up to a lot of stress in your child’s life. Plus, it’s just plain exhausting. And you would think that playing outside would just make your child even more tired, but it actually has the opposite effect. It’s incredibly relaxing and healing.
And there’s actual data to back this up. In 2014, educators from Maryland and Colorado teamed up with researchers from the University of Colorado to study the effects that green, outdoor schoolyards had on children’s stress levels. They found that increasing children’s exposure to green outdoor spaces helped decrease stress levels by offering an escape from life’s daily routine.
Plus, research shows that being in a natural environment actually reduces the body’s stress reaction by triggering the body’s relaxation response, where your blood pressure, heart rate, and cortisol levels are all reduced. Something to think about the next time you feel like you can’t handle one more thing going wrong or even just one more thing being added to your ever-growing to-do list.
And, according to the Attention Restoration Theory, urban environments require directed attention and force us to ignore distractions, which exhausts our brains. But natural environments, allow us to use an effortless type of attention, known as soft fascination, which creates feelings of pleasure instead of fatigue.
Studies have also found that even the simple presence of nature (e.g., trees, grass, and plants) near children’s homes can help them better cope with stress. One more reason to go out and plant a tree.
3. Outdoor Play Increases Vitamin D Levels
If you walk by any vitamin counter these days, you are bound to see bottles of vitamin D. It’s a pretty big deal. But did you know that you can get vitamin D through sun exposure? And it’s probably way better than putting that little pill in your mouth.
The American Academy of Pediatrics says that vitamin D offers several health benefits, including strengthening bones and helping to prevent diabetes and heart disease.
Plus, vitamin D also helps regulate mental and emotional moods by increasing serotonin levels in the brain. Serotonin plays an important role in regulating mood and keeps us happy. And who doesn’t like being happy?
4. Outdoor Play Stimulates the Senses
Nature may seem less stimulating than your average video game, but it actually activates a lot more senses. You can see, hear, smell, touch, and even taste (yuck) outdoor environments. (It’s even better than those cool 3-D video games.) You can see the wide variety of color in autumn leaves. Hear the twitter of the birds or chirping of crickets. Feel the soft fur of a baby bunny (aaahhh) or the rough bark of a tree. And taste the sweetness of fresh strawberries or the bitterness of that freshly made mud pie.
As our children are spending less and less time in nature, their senses are reduced. The old adage is true, “Use it, or lose it.” By getting our kids back outside we enrich their environment, stimulate their senses, and ultimately improve their lives.
5. Outdoor Play Stimulates the Brain
It can be argued that children learn more through outdoor play than they do in the classroom. At least, I’ve read many such arguments. Playing outside makes kids think. It naturally provides an environment that encourages kids to ask questions about the earth and all the life on it.
Even something as simple as the weather can provide environments and materials that inspire children while challenging them and forcing them to problem solve all while having a lot of fun. Snow hills, ice patches, puddles, snowy trees, hot days, and falling leaves, all provide opportunities for growth and new challenges, such as how can we best slide across the icy path without falling down or how big must the leaf pile be to cushion our jump from the tree. Exposure to nature encourages brain development by providing children with opportunities to learn new skills, be creative, take risks, experiment, discover new things, and develop a sense of wonder. The ever-changing natural world provides children with natural challenges and bolsters their brainpower.
6. Outdoor Play Improves Psychological Wellbeing
Sure we want our kids to be smart and to do well in school, but in the end, don’t we just want them to be happy? I know I do, which is why I try to take my children into the great outdoors on a regular basis. Because I’ve learned that spending time outside makes kids happier. And you don’t just have to take my word for it.
Research shows that spending time in natural environments leads to a reduction in anger, decreases problem behaviors, leads to a greater respect for self and others, provides greater autonomy, and reduces depressive symptoms.
Basically, kids benefit psychologically from being outdoors. Access to green spaces enhances peace, self-control, and self-discipline. And your kid’s ability to regulate their emotions is also improved. Goodbye midday meltdowns!
So, if you want kids that are more focused, calmer, healthier, enriched, smarter, and happier, ditch the movie or TV show tonight and go to the park instead. It’ll help all of you to be healthier and happier. And it might even bring you closer together.