Do your children get more green time – or screen time?
Most kids spend only 30 minutes playing outside each day … but they spend more than 6 hours every day staring at a screen.
Twenty years ago, children spent twice as much time outside as they do now, according to a University of Michigan study.
Less time outside means less exercise. According to the Centers for Disease Control, childhood obesity has doubled in the past 20 years. Adolescent obesity has tripled.
Plus, more children take ADHD medication in the United States than in any other country.
How do you keep your kids from being a part of these staggering statistics? Send them outside to play.
1. Playing outside relieves stress.
In today’s society, even preschoolers lead highly-structured “adult” lives. A hurried lifestyle causes stress, anxiety, and depression, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics.
Playing outside slows down kids’ hurried lives, curbs anxiety and depression, and releases stress.
Bottom line: nature calms kids.
The open spaces release them from indoor restraints, allowing them to let loose and let go. They can even be noisy without driving you nuts!
This unstructured playtime also enhances their emotional development.
Sharing playground equipment teaches your children how to interact with others. As an example, by taking turns going down the slide, they learn valuable social skills that will benefit them for life.
2. Green space diminishes ADHD tendencies and increases focus.
In 2000, one in eight American children took Ritalin, ostensibly to correct behavioral issues. One of the primary reasons is that they’re labeled as having Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD).
You can help curb these tendencies in your children – without dangerous drugs!
Natural light and outdoor settings reduce ADHD behaviors and symptoms. In fact, a study from the University of Illinois says playing outside is “widely effective” at reducing ADHD symptoms.
Make sure they get some real exercise while they’re outside. Whenever my children – especially my sons – started getting antsy while doing their schoolwork, I had them run outside. When they were in middle school, if they couldn’t sit still, they went out and ran to the end of our street and back again – about a half mile.
(Obviously, tailor this to the safety of your neighborhood. There are many neighborhoods where I’d never consider sending them off by themselves. A word to the wise.)
Green space also helps fight depression. Between 1998 and 2002, 68 percent more girls started taking antidepressants and 34 percent more boys started taking antidepressants.
Researchers blame this increase on longer amounts of screen time and greater academic pressure.
Send your kids outside to help protect them from depression.
3. Bright sunlight promotes sleep.
You always sleep like a rock after spending all day at the beach, lake, or pool. Ever wonder why?
Sunlight stimulates your pineal gland — the part of your brain that controls your “biological clock.” When properly stimulated during the day, this gland helps you sleep better at night. Best is to be outside for 30 to 60 minutes as close to solar noon as possible.
The pineal gland produces a hormone called melatonin. This hormone regulates your awake / sleep patterns.
Darkness stimulates your body to produce melatonin. You cannot produce it when it’s light out. This light / dark cycle keeps your biological clock in line. With enough light during the day, you’ll sleep more deeply at night. It also helps if you turn the artificial lights down in the evening to stimulate melatonin… especially if you or your children have trouble winding down in the evening.
The pineal gland also keeps your immune system working properly. Good for keeping the flu and other nasty illnesses at bay.
4. Most kids need more vitamin D.
The American Academy of Pediatrics believes most American children need more vitamin D. In fact, it’s the hidden deficiency hardly anyone talks about.
Vitamin D strengthens their bones (and yours). It also protects against many kinds of cancer. Some scientists say it could save 100,000 lives per year. Add that to protecting against heart disease, diabetes, and other health issues… and even scaring away the “winter blues.”
Encourage your children to play outside for at least 15 to 30 minutes every day without sunscreen.
Sunscreen blocks some cancer-causing rays, but it also keeps your body from absorbing the vitamin D that prevents cancer. And most sunscreens are crazy loaded with toxins.
Consider this… most people today have been duped into being afraid of the sun. Yet before cancer was the threat it is today, most people spent the majority of their waking hours outside in the sun. Ironic, isn’t it?
5. Running, jumping, throwing, & catching keeps kids strong and healthy.
Children explore more outside than they do inside. And as they explore, they unknowingly strengthen their muscles and increase their flexibility.
Stretching their limits helps them gain confidence.
Playing outside, especially playing sports, helps children develop fine and gross motor skills, says Rae Pica, adjunct professor at the University of New Hampshire.
Furthermore, they find whole-body activities interesting and challenging, Rae says.
Balance and coordination
They also learn coordination as they play outside.
As children swing, for example, they use muscles to hold on and to balance. They learn to coordinate their bodies to the back-and-forth rhythm. They also learn about cause and effect. They start to understand spatial relationships, such as up and down and back and forth.
Monkey bars and merry-go-rounds also teach balance and coordination.
Nature offers almost limitless ways to teach and perfect motor skills.
Running, leaping, jumping, throwing, catching, striking, pushing, pulling, lifting, and carrying are just a few examples.
Everything from riding a bike to playing soccer to raking leaves will develop motor skills, in addition to all the other outdoor benefits.
6. Playing outside improves vision.
Children who spend more time outside have better distance vision than those who play indoors, according to the Journal of Optometry and Vision Science.
Donald Mutti, a researcher from Ohio State University’s College of Optometry, believes natural light preserves the proper shape and length of a child’s eyes as they grow. He suggests children should spend 14 hours a week outside. That’s 2 hours a day – far more than what most children get.
Remember: even on an overcast day, outdoor light is still 10 times brighter than indoor light. So don’t use clouds as an excuse.
7. Playing outside improves standardized test scores.
By exploring nature, children learn critical thinking skills. This translates to higher test scores in math, reading, writing, and listening, according to research from Evergreen State College.
Children who play outside naturally learn to explore and investigate. They are more self-directed and have longer attention spans than children who play mostly indoors.
Playing make-believe and inventing new games teaches autonomy, decision-making skills, and organization, Pica says.
Children also learn to communicate and expand their vocabulary as they invent, modify, and enforce rules governing their made-up games. And if they keep score, they practice adding and subtracting. They also learn social customs as they interact with others.
Modern safety concerns
When I was a girl, my parents sent me outdoors in the morning and told me to come home when the streetlights came on. Or at dinnertime, depending on the time of year…
Sadly, that’s no longer safe, at least in most parts of the country.
However, you should still make time for your children to play outdoors. Whether they play in your yard, or you take them to the park or beach or sports practice, outdoor play is vital to your child’s wellbeing in a multitude of ways.
And for the most part it’s free. So why not start today?
In this era of excessive screen time, what can you do to encourage being outdoors in nature?
Here are some quick ideas gathered from personal experience and other sources to stimulate your creativity:
- Small children love small things – like worms, spiders, and caterpillars. Have a small insect playtime.
- Dig / plant seeds / pull weeds in the garden. Most children enjoy this, and you get a “chore” done. Convert chores to fun whenever possible… like raking a big pile of leaves to jump in.
- Hunt for shells, pebbles, acorns, pine cones, seeds, flowers… you name it. Most of them can be turned into fun crafts and gifts.
- Stop and feed the ducks on your way back from running errands, even if it’s only for 10 minutes.
- Go for a walk in the rain. Set a glass out to collect and measure the rain.
- Make a daily “Green Hour” – 1 hour of unstructured outdoor play – part of your children’s daily schedule.
- If they resist going outside, create challenges, such as a nature scavenger hunt, relay race, or balance activity.
- Host a backyard campout if you live in a rural or suburban area with a yard.
- When it’s hot, let your children go wild with the hose, buckets, squirt toys…
- Have toys that are “outside only” toys to encourage being outside.
- As appropriate to their age, teach them outdoor living skills, like building a campfire or creating a table with twigs and twine.
- Accept that they’ll track some dirt into the house. It goes with the territory. Let them know it’s okay, and as appropriate, teach them how to launder their sweaty clothes and clean up the mud they tracked in.
Ready to encourage the process of getting outside more? Here are some great options…
This is my favorite mini-rebounder, the one I use every day. And the very same one my three grandsons alternately fight over and share! Offers terrific flexibility between indoors and outdoors for locations with long winters. It’s super well made and should last a lifetime. So your investment is well worth it… Take a look at it here: Half-Fold Rebounder Mini-Trampoline: Lifetime All Parts Warranty – Folding Portable Jogging / Fitness Small Tramp Excercise Equipment.
Looking for the “real deal” – a big trampoline? Here are two options that include many added safety features to protect your children while they enjoy the great outdoors (and burn all that energy).
They’re a great investment in healthy happy children. The cost of acquisition divided by the hours of entertainment makes it a total bargain. Join a sports club, and you’ll spend this money in just three to five months and have no lasting value to show for it; plus, you’ll have to play chauffeur all the time.
The Geometric Climber also chases away the wiggles: Lifetime Geometric Dome Climber Play Center (Primary Colors).