Posted on: 27.05.2016.
Author: Ana G
In today's digital age, a typical child spends only an average of 30 minutes playing outside every day. Due to demands at school, hours of structured activities and tutoring and the time spent on electronic devices, kids aren’t getting outside enough to move their bodies, commune with nature and breathe the fresh air. Some kids spend as much time at school and doing homework as their parents spend at work. While children are gaining in book smarts, they are missing out on the benefits of spending time in free play.
While school and family time are important, the average child in the United States spends up to 7 hours on electronic devices on a daily basis, even on school days. Some children even report that they would rather play video games or be on FaceTime with their pals instead of actually going outside and riding bikes, playing on swings or doing other activities.
Another reason for a decrease in outdoor time is due to the fact that many parents spend a lot of time getting their kids into organized groups such as chess clubs, gymnastics classes, scouting and traveling team sports. Many children are overwhelmed by busy schedules and don’t have enough time to spend playing outside. Although there are benefits to organized activities, they do not allow kids to explore nature or make discoveries on their own.
But technology and lack of time are not the only things that are holding kids back from exploring the great outdoors. Many parents are becoming increasingly worried for their children’s safety. The fear of strangers, traffic or injuries deters parents from allowing children to spend more time outside. Some parents don’t realize how much children can benefit from the freedom of being outside and making up their own games.
Outdoor play helps children learn how to socialize, develop curiosity, empathy and become inquisitive about the world around them. Children need to develop a sense of self-awareness and learn problem-solving skills, and time outside allows this to happen. The more time your child spends freely playing outdoors, the more they learn how to use the resources around them and act in a way to solve problems.
The open-ended playtime helps kids to explore with their senses of touch, smell, vision, and sight. They get to see new things, watch the ever changing environment and even develop imaginary worlds in which they can be anything or anyone that they want to be. When kids don’t go outside to play, they miss out on all of this fun, learning and development. Children who spend time outdoors every day are able to grow mentally, emotionally and spiritually.
Going outside is also important for your child's physical health. Children who spend the majority of their time inside sitting at a desk or with an electronic device in hand are at an increased risk of obesity. Inactive children risk developing medical conditions such as Type 2 diabetes, high cholesterol and high blood pressure at rates similar to inactive adults. Kids who do not go outside are also at risk of slower social development, an increase in personal stress and a lack of cognitive skills. Children who spend most of their time inside can also develop learning disorders such as attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). Depression, anxiety and poor vision are also some effects of lack of outdoor playtime. There are many ways that going outside to play every day can make kids smarter and help them to succeed at anything that they put their minds to.
Going outside to play inspires kids to be creative and innovative in everything they do. They get to use their imagination and think up all sorts of scenarios that are sometimes applicable to the real world. Kids can invent games to play alone or to teach to others. The abundance of natural materials like interesting rocks, cattails, colorful leaves and flowers and good old dirt provides kids with plenty of supplies for self-expression. No two trips outside to play will be exactly alike, which is much different than when sitting to watch a video or play an app. When kids go outside, the possibilities for learning and fun are without bounds.
When your child goes outside to play, whether it is in his own backyard or the park across the street from her house, your child has to make their own fun. This encourages not just creativity but also a sense of self-reliance. The kids get to devise their own rules and use their street smarts, cognitive skills and the creativity of their own minds in doing so. When playing with others, they get to negotiate, develop social skills and creative methods of describing what they are doing, seeing and feeling.
Playing outside in the fresh air gives children the opportunity to be physically active and helps them stay healthy. Exposure to some dirt, pollen and insects can help boost children’s immunity and may even help to reduce their risk of developing allergies. When children are healthy, it is easier for them to learn. Less time spent in bed sick allows for more time spent exploring and learning.
Research on moods shows that time spent in natural sunlight helps people to lower feelings of anxiety and reduces physical and mental stress. Also, the fact that there are no rules when it comes to playing outside, children don’t feel stressed to play a certain way. They make their own rules as they go. Also, playing outside after school allows kids a physical release of energy and stress.
Going outside is a full sensory experience. When a kid steps outdoors, every sense is awakened. Your child can hear the birds, smell the flowers, see the clouds, touch the rocks and perhaps even taste wild blackberries. Being able to use all of these senses at once provides children with a new way of experiencing the world that just is not possible when sitting at a desk or in front of a smartphone.
The engagement of all the senses allows kids to become more open to new experiences and to new ways of thinking. The way that one child experiences the outdoors, even just their own backyard, will be unique from how another child experiences the same place.
With so much time spent inside doing schoolwork and on electronic devices, many kids struggle with focusing on daily tasks. Some kids have a lot of excess energy and may be labeled as hyperactive when what they actually need is to go outside and let off some of their energy. Spending unstructured time outdoors can help a child to build their level of focus and attention without the child even realizing it. Just a short outdoor visit can improve memory and attention spans in the classroom by up to 20 percent.
Since the human circadian rhythm is based upon exposure to natural sunlight, letting your child get some natural sunlight can have an extra benefit. It can help them with the management of daily routines, such as going to bed and getting up at the same time every day.
There are many things that books just cannot teach, one of which is problem-solving. Going outdoors to explore exposes kids to situations that require some investigation, trying, failing and repeating of this learning cycle. Kids can get a sense of when to move forward and when to stop. They also learn about staying safe and knowing their limits. Letting kids develop these skills in relaxed outdoor situations helps to prepare them for more more important issues as they grow up.
When your child goes outside, he or she can make up the rules about what to do. If a child chooses to play with others, they learn about interpersonal communications. Kids can get a better sense of what statements and requests elicit cooperation and which ones elicit anger or withdrawal. This helps kids to solve their own minor problems, which will help them later in life when the problems are bigger.
First-hand experiences in the natural world help kids to make stronger connections to abstract concepts that they learn about in books and on computers. Making meaningful connections helps kids to better absorb different conceptual ideas. Getting their hands dirty outside also makes it easier for kids to comprehend book lessons.
For example, touching the roots of a plant can allow them to better understand how water travels through the plant's cell walls. Kids are also more likely to remember what they learn from a book when they can see it in real life.
It is important for kids to understand that other living things can feel pain and have their own lives to live. When your child watches bees visiting flowers or dogs barking angrily at each other, they learn to be empathetic and respectful. This sets the stage for being able to be empathetic toward other people.
Most kids are joyful and happy when spending time outdoors. The physical activity, exploration and trying new things provides kids with a sense of positivity. These feelings stick with your child and can be brought into other parts of their lives, giving them something to look forward to. Happy kids are generally better learners, and learning is easier when it is enjoyable to do.
Going outside is also a proven mood booster. Physical movement and exposure to the sun helps the body increase dopamine levels. With increased activity, kids get a boost of endorphins, which are the body's natural "feel-good" neurotransmitters. A simple outdoor excursion can elevate your child's sad or bland mood into one that is positive.
When a child goes outside, there are not so many limits on verbal expression. Shrieking with excitement or joy can be done without causing as much disruption like it does indoors. Kids get to create the boundaries of how they verbalize when outside. Kids can use their words to describe what they are seeing and doing and express their imaginations freely.
Interactions with other kids allow them to develop a personality in their storytelling. As your child sees or tries something new, their vocabulary can be expanded. A child can learn new terms like "photosynthesis" and really understand what it means. Kids can also tell intricate stories and give instructions describing what they are doing. This will also help them improve their communication with the whole family.
When children get to set the terms of their play, those who are naturally skilled at leadership will make themselves known. Kids get to set their social hierarchy without as much interference from the grownups. If your child commits a social faux pas, their peers will let them know about it. When outdoors, kids also gain the opportunity to play with others they do not usually play with and to stand up for things that are important to them.
Kids learn how to negotiate with each other and specific skill sets can also develop, such as when one child demonstrates how to do a physical activity and another child uses words to describe the rules of the new game. All of these skills are important throughout adulthood.
With so many great reasons why children should spend time playing outside every day, it is important for grownups to make this time a priority. Children not only have fun and express themselves, but they also develop essential social, cognitive and behavioral skills that they will use throughout their lifetimes. Going outside helps to improve your child's health and sense of well-being as well as moods and mental development. Kids naturally want to go outside and get a feel for how the world works and what other living things there are. The time spent playing outdoors as a child will also grow into a respect for the outdoors throughout adulthood.