Have you ever noticed after being outside all day how much more alive you feel at the end of the day? Sure, you may be more exhausted but you feel better, right? That is not by accident….and it is exactly the same for children. There are some important benefits to encouraging your kids to play outside in all kinds of weather.
I remember as children we were often told to “go play outside”, no matter how cold it was. We were just expected to bundle up in our snowsuits, hats, gloves and boots and get out and play. I also remember we weren’t the only kids on the street playing in the yard, there were kids all around the neighborhood playing too.
Some of my greatest memories as a child was when I spent time outdoors playing in our neighborhood. I would build forts with my brothers and neighborhood friends, catch a mouse or a lizard as a pet, play in the dirt, catch bugs, ride my bike or play hide and seek. There was never time to get bored.
Fast forward 30+ years and when I take my own children to a city park on a cool or slightly rainy day – there isn’t a child in sight! Times have definitely changed and not necessarily for the better. I believe there are several different reasons as to why children play outside less and maybe no perfect answer for everybody. Nevertheless, I efforts need to be made to make sure our children are getting a healthy dose of the outdoors.
The Benefits of Kids Playing Outside Today
Benefit #1 – Vitamin D! More than half of the population in the world is said to be Vitamin D deficient and this causes a number of health risks, including cancer. See my article here on Vitamin D deficiency.
Vitamin D is the ‘sunshine’ vitamin and when we absorb enough through our skin, it not only lowers cancer risk but it also uplifts our mood and improves our bone health.
We have been accustomed to lathering the sunscreen on our kids before they go outside. In doing this, we are blocking the UVB rays needed to be absorbed for vitamin D production. Try instead, letting the kids play first and watch them closely. When you feel they have had just enough before you think they may turn a bit pink, then worry about the sunscreen.
Benefit #2 – Improved Eyesight! Who knew? There have been recent studies done that show children who have had more outside play time vs. children who have more inside play time. The result? The kids who play outside more have less nearsightedness and need for eye glasses. See this study for full article. One of the main explanations for this is the obvious: less time in front of the TV!
There has been a huge increase in recent years of 2-5 year old’s spending up to 32 hours a week in front of a TV screen. Also, according to these studies, the screen time only gets worse with age as older children are spending time on the computer or playing video games as well.
Benefit #3 – Being out in Nature Reduces Stress and Anxiety. It seems spending time in green spaces is often relaxing and healing for children.
Dr Kathleen Berchelmann sees the most extreme cases of stressed, depressed and anxious kids, too often dealing with teenagers who have tried to commit suicide. “It’s frightening,” said Berchelmann, a paediatric specialist at Barnes-Jewish, Missouri Baptist and Progress West hospitals. When she asks her patients about activities in their lives during childhood, growing up with plenty of outdoor time is rarely mentioned.
Berchelmann said she notices her most carefree patients have opposite lives. They are covered in ticks after being out catching frogs, got a hook stuck in their ear while fishing in a creek or have an infected mosquito bite after a camping trip.”They are the ones waiting an hour to see you and are still giggling when you get in the room,” she said.
Children today spend only four to seven minutes outside each day in unstructured outdoor play such as climbing trees, building forts, catching bugs or playing tag, studies show. Yet, they spend more than seven hours each day in front of a screen.
The question of how this affects a child’s mental and physical development has become increasingly important to address. The National Wildlife Federation released a comprehensive report Whole Child: Developing Mind, Body and Spirit through Outdoor Play discovering how the benefits of playing outside promote not just physical wellness but also mental.
Sadly, the report shows that in the past 20 years, the use of antidepressants in pediatric patients has risen, and the United States has become the largest consumer of ADHD medications in the world.
Benefit #4 –Children develop better social skills. Children develop problem solving and cooperation skills while playing in an unstructured environment outdoors. Even if children are playing alone, in nature they will find themselves in more situations that develop self awareness and self-discipline – leading to healthier interpersonal relationships later in life.
Benefit #5 – Improved Immunity! How, you ask? The short answer is… dirt.
That’s right, let them play in mud!
It turns out that being exposed to germs, bugs or mud, actually lead to improved immune systems. It is no accident in nature that kids have a natural desire to “taste” everything. In doing this, they are building their immune systems and preparing their bodies to fight back.
Benefit #6 – Exercise. Need I say more? Childhood obesity has more than doubled in recent years. Being outside allows children free space to run and jump around and just be silly. Often they are having so much fun that we probably don’t even realize how much energy they are burning. Have you ever noticed how much hungrier your children are after being active outside all day? I know this is when my kids eat the best.
Benefit #7 – Happier relationships. Kids learn to develop better relationships with their peers as they are totally engaged with one another, making up games and such and improving their people and relationship building skills – leading to healthier, happier relationships later in life.
Benefit #8 – Better grades in school. Children tend to be more focused and develop longer attention spans when they spend less time watching the TV and playing video games. This naturally leads to better grades.
Benefit #9 – Better sleep. Fresh air leads to better and deeper breathing which is naturally calming and soothing. Ensuring your child is getting a healthy amount of fresh air, sunshine, and plenty of exercise is recipe for a good night’s sleep. I challenge you to find me a parent who doesn’t appreciate this!
A good night’s sleep = A happy child. ‘Nuf said.
What about your family? Do you find it challenging to get outside enough? I would love to hear your idea’s, challenges and stories and how you keep your family motivated to get out into the fresh air.