Students today spend more time inside than ever before. More time outside means more opportunities for everything from sunburn and bug bites to more serious dangers. Parental concerns aside, lots of kids also choose to stay indoors. Whether it’s because of the air conditioning, TV and video games, or anything else, kids just don’t play outside like they used to.
This may not seem like a big deal (or even a good thing to some), recent studies have found that not only does spending time outdoors come with some great benefits, it is an essential part of children’s development.
There are obviously many factors that can make a difference in every situation, but before we get into specifics, let’s have a look at some of the benefits that come with playing outside.
Spending time under direct sunlight is needed for the body to create vitamin D, which is important for bone and immune system development. It’s also a necessary part of the production of serotonin, which impacts kids’ moods and happiness. Direct sunlight has also been proven to promote a healthy sleep schedule (something we talk about in some of our other posts).
It’s possible to exercise indoors, but kids who spend time outside are much more likely to engage in healthy activities. Activities like team sports, swimming, walking, and bike riding, are all great ways for kids to stay healthy. Even students who aren’t interested (or can’t participate) in organized sports, something as simple as going for a walk or building a sandcastle can make a difference.
Unstructured playtime, (which tends to happen outside far more than it does indoors) provides students with the opportunity to plan, prioritize, negotiate, and problem solve, something that’s not possible in highly controlled environments such as classes or clubs. In order to develop good executive functioning skills, it’s essential for kids to be creative in open situations. Playing outside gives children the chance to come up with their own games and think independently to solve problems they encounter. Because of unlimited possibilities they’re exposed to outdoors, students get also the opportunity to build their confidence from exploring and learning on their own.
In the modern era, students are exposed to extremely high levels of stimulation starting at a very early age. TV and video games provide sensory input in a way that can be both irresistible and overwhelming to developing minds. Playing outside generally lacks the intensity of stimulation of stuff like video games, but the stimulation that kids do get is much more varied in nature. In addition to visual and or audible stimuli, smells and tactile sensations engages kids’ minds in ways that are difficult to mimic indoors.
This, of course, leads us to the next question: how to engage kids outside and make time outdoors fun in the age of online gaming and smartphones.
Making Nature Fun
There are already plenty of great resources for finding outdoor activities for kids of all ages, so we’ll just talk about a few suggestions here, but in reality, the possibilities are endless.
A great place to start is with scavenger hunts; they be adjusted based on the age of the kids playing. Even more importantly, they also provide kids with a sense of accomplishment when they find the things they’re looking for, keeping them engaged.
Older kids who may not be as interested in just looking for things may be interested in learning to identify different kinds of plants and animals that they see around them using reference books or websites. Not only does this give kids a sense of satisfaction similar to scavenger hunts, it’s a great way to subtly teach them about the world around them. Incorporating technology to take pictures and do research not only reinforce the lessons, but it will also add a new dimension, keeping students engaged. From there, kids may also want to start a collection of interesting things they find.
Like lots of other great ideas, things like this are really simple. Things like hiking and building a treehouse are great too, but may not be as easy in more urban environments, especially if parents are busy. Regardless of the specifics, if we keep in mind how important it is for kids to be outside, we are already taking steps in the right direction.
To read more about the benefits of spending time outside, check out these webpages: