You probably want what is best for your children. You try to feed them right, give them a good home life, support their education, and give them fun things to do. There is one activity that is usually free and has been shown by research to be a wonderful support for children’s development. It is making sure they have some time outside to interact with nature.
Spending time in nature has many benefits for children. Compared to children who spend most of their time inside, children who spend more time in nature have:
- higher self-esteem,
- increased cognitive abilities (that means better thinking skills),
- higher ability to reflect on life,
- stronger sense of empathy (that means a better understanding how others feel),
- and even show reduced symptoms of ADHD!.
In addition, children who are more connected to nature have an overall improved sense of happiness and well-being. That sounds like a lot of bang for the buck! Who would have thought that all those benefits could come from playing in the back yard or taking a walk to the park?
It seems simple enough, but many children are not getting those benefits. Why are so many children not getting enough time outside, even though all this research shows how great it is?
Concerns about safety.
Many parents in all parts of the country are concerned about their children’s safety. Some worry about strangers or think the neighborhood is not safe. Others worry about injury. Those parents feel safer when their children are indoors.
You should understand that children are safest both outside and at home if the you pay attention to what the children are doing. This is especially true of younger children. When you play with the children, everyone benefits. But you have a life. You might not always be able to be there. It might be possible to take turns with neighbors and family members. You take several kids one day and they take them all the next day. That way the children are not alone outside. If the neighborhood is not safe, explore other ways to be outside. What about a porch or a park a little farther away? Maybe you can work with other parents to create a safe space.
It also is important to remember that children need to take some chances sometimes. They need to climb, explore, wade, run, jump, and tumble. That is part of growing up. It is important to find an outdoor space that it reasonably safe. Then you need to help children learn skills to be safe. Children need to learn stranger safety without being afraid of everyone new. They need to learn basic first aid without being afraid of every bump or cut. Taking chances is part of growing up. And that is one of the great things about being outside. They can learn to be brave and strong!
Focus on electronics.
Technology like computers and video games are all around us and our children. Sometimes you might find that it feels easy and safe to let the children use their devices. It seems easier and safer than going outside. It keeps them quiet and busy. Studies have shown that, on average, children today are spending about 6.5 hours with electronic devices. That can be quiet time for the parents, but that is time the children are not doing active things. Those children could have problems with obesity. They are not burning calories. They also are not learning to work out problems with other children. They are not getting fresh air. They are not getting the benefits that are listed earlier. While computers and technology might feel like a saving grace, everything in life needs to have balance.
If you want to be both technology-friendly and include nature, try to schedule both activities in children’s days. Give them time on their devices, but limit that time to certain hours. Also include outdoor playtime daily. You and the children may be surprised how fresh air and green leaves help the children and their development.
Ted Talks to further learning:
Barrera-Hernández, L. F., Sotelo-Castillo, M. A., Echeverría-Castro, S. B., & Tapia-Fonllem, C. O. (2020). Connectedness to nature: Its impact on sustainable behaviors and happiness in children. Frontiers in Psychology, 11. https://doi-org.ezproxy2.library.colostate.edu/10.3389/fpsyg.2020.00276
Driessnack, M. (2009, January). Children and Nature-Deficit Disorder. Journal for Specialists in Pediatric Nursing. https://search.proquest.com/openview/a987ec02528b8b51140c9486b2ff8431/1?pq-origsite=gscholar&cbl=25318.
Maller, C. J. (2009). Promoting children’s mental, emotional and social health through contact with nature: a model. Health Education, 109(6), 522–543. https://doi.org/10.1108/09654280911001185