It’s summer! The sun is shining, the skies are blue, and popsicles are a part of every kids diet. Summer break is well underway and kids are enjoying the time away from school.
As parents, however, we are struggling to find ways to keep kids entertained now that the newness has worn off and the horrible phrase, “Mom, I’m bored” is being heard more often than we’d like.
We fondly remember our own childhood summers full of friends and adventures in the outdoors. We’d gobble down our breakfast and then race down the street to meet Jenny or Johnny. We’d play kickball, build tree houses, find snakes or frogs, dash down the slip-n-slide, race through the trees, or play in the nearby stream or ditch. And at the end of the day, after an evening of neighborhood night games, we’d collapse in our beds for some well-deserved sleep.
But as we try to shoo our own kids out the door, we are likely to hear groans and protests as many children prefer to spend time indoors playing electronic games or watching TV, rather than getting out in nature. In fact, the average American child is said to spend less than an hour a day in unstructured play outdoors, while over seven hours a day in front of a screen. Less than an hour!
But there are so many physical and mental benefits to getting our kids outside that it’s time to move past the groans and the protests and push our kids out the door.
Here are just a few reasons to get outside this summer
1. It Builds Confidence
When kids are outside in nature, they are in control. They get to choose what they do and how they do it. And making choices and dealing with the consequences, sometimes very immediate consequences (think skinned knee), builds confidence in kids.
Nature also provides kids with natural obstacles and victories. Nothing builds self-esteem faster than conquering something that you weren’t sure you could do, whether it’s that mountaintop that seemed so far away or that big jump that you were scared to do or a tree house that you built that once seemed like a dream. And the self-esteem that your kids build while outside is the kind that lasts.
2. It Improves Vision
A study published by the American Academy of Ophthalmology found that children who spend time outside are at a reduced risk of developing myopia (nearsightedness). The team of researchers found that a child’s chances of developing myopia dropped by two percent for each additional hour spent outdoors per week…two percent!
Why does being outside improve vision? We aren’t exactly sure but some doctors suspect it has to do with the higher levels of light outside. But whatever the reason, it works. So get your kids outside and help them ditch their future glasses.
3. It Supports Social Skills
Outdoor play helps your kids get along better with others. It’s true! According to a 2005 study, children are smarter, better able to get along with others, healthier, and happier when they have regular opportunities for free and unstructured play outdoors.
Outdoor play helps your kids develop a wide range of social skills. On a playground, not everyone gets to go across the monkey bars at the same time. Children must learn the social and behavioral skills that allow them to navigate the social environment. They learn to take turns or they end up in a pile of upset kids as they drop off the bars to the ground below. Natural consequences are a beautiful thing.
In fact, the University of Missouri-Kansas’ School of Education found that outdoor play has many brain-boosting benefits for kids, starting in infancy. The article explains that outdoor play fosters social, emotional, and cognitive competencies in kids, including strengthening the language and communication interactions between young children who play together at the park.
4. It Gets Kids Moving
If your kids go outside, they are bound to get more exercise than sitting on the couch. Climbing trees, kicking around the soccer ball, running through the sprinklers, even just walking will get their blood pumping. And not only is exercise good for our bodies, but it’s also good for the brain. Exercise can help your kid become more focused, which is especially beneficial for kids with ADHD.
Outdoor play also naturally causes kids to use more of their muscles and in a variety of ways. This naturally increases their total strength, especially their core strength. It makes them more durable and less likely to get injured.
Research also shows that children who play outside are more active and generally have a lower risk of childhood obesity.
5. It Promotes Creativity and Imagination
Outside play is just different than indoor play. It’s unstructured, imaginative, and inventive. It allows kids to think more freely, design their own activities, and approach the world in inventive ways.
Studies have shown that playing in nature is especially important for developing the capacities for creativity, problem-solving, and intellectual development.
When kids play outside, the sky is the limit (literally). They aren’t given any parameters or rules or instructions. Whatever they choose to do is of their own making. It causes them to think creatively and use their imaginations. The neighborhood trees turn into Sherwood Forest. The sidewalks become busy streets. Brooms turn into valiant steeds. And backyards turn into Army training centers.
6. It Strengthens the Immune System
Exposure to sunlight increases the body’s natural production of Vitamin D3. Kids who spend more time outside naturally create more of this vitamin. Vitamin D3 is important for bone and muscle development, and is also beneficial for overall health. Just make sure your kids are also using sun protection.
Playing outside can also protect children from allergies and asthma. Frequent exposure to common allergens helps to reduce a child’s reaction to them. In addition, playing outside also strengthens kids’ immune systems, making them less likely to get sick.
It may seem safer and easier to keep the kids inside this summer (no sunscreen necessary!) but evidence suggests that contact with nature is needed in frequent, regular doses.
So, this summer get your kids out the door. Go to the park, hike a mountain, or simply set up the slip-n-slide. It really is good for them.