Did you know the average American child spends less than 30 minutes outdoors each day and more than seven hours in front of an electronic screen? These statistics were shocking to me. Not only do our kids not get enough time outside, as the obesity rates soar, our kids are missing out on all of the amazing health and developmental benefits of nature for kids.
I started thinking about the fact that our kids don’t get outside enough because my kids and I went hiking this past Sunday. Immediately, I was shocked (and excited) to see how thrilled my kids were to be outside, exploring their desert surroundings. I don’t know why it hadn’t dawned on me before that I should be finding more ways to get my kids outside, but I just didn’t.
As a child myself, I was constantly outdoors. I spent nearly every waking minute (even in the depths of a Wisconsin winter) outside, romping around the neighborhood, playing with my friends, being in nature. To this day, I have a great appreciation for nature. I believe this love of nature is due to my childhood immersed in my natural surroundings. My husband always jokes with me because I am constantly noticing the sunsets, the puffy clouds in the sky, the changing leaves. Nature is intrinsically a part of me, and I want my kids to have that opportunity too.
Our little hike on Sunday really got me thinking about the reasons kids need to spend time in nature and I found tons of reasons to support my hypothesis. Kids who get to spend more time outdoors are happier, healthier, and downright smarter. It’s time we all find ways to let our kids explore their natural environments. Here are just 10 of the benefits of nature for kids.
10 Surprising Benefits of Nature for Kids
1. Promotes Creativity, Problem-Solving, and Imagination
Unstructured playtime is a great way for kids to use their creativity and imagination. Being outside allows kids opportunities to explore their surroundings and find meaningful ways to connect with their environment. Studies indicate that children engage in more creative play when their in green spaces, which helps develop creativity and problem-solving (Kellert, 2005).
2. Improves Health and Nutrition
Outdoor play is important for physical health. Getting enough vitamin D from the sun protects children from future bone problems, heart disease, and other health issues. Interestingly, more time spent outdoors is related to reduced rates of nearsightedness in children and adolescents (American Academy of Ophthalmology, 2011). Also, kids who grow their own food outdoors are more likely to eat better and develop healthy eating habits.
3. Enhances Cognitive Abilities
Kids exposed to nature on a daily basis increase their focus and cognitive abilities (Wells, 2000). Nature activates more senses – hearing, seeing, smell and touch – than indoor play. Kids who do not have access to nature see their senses narrow.
4. Improves Academic Performance
U.S. studies show that kids who have outdoor classrooms or other forms of nature-based education programs see significant academic gains in social studies, science, language arts, and math. For example, kids who participated in outdoor science programs improved their science test scores by 27% (American Institutes of Research, 2005). Being in nature also makes kids think differently. Nature creates a sense of wonder and brings up questions about the earth and life on earth.
5. Reduces ADHD symptoms
I was surprised to learn that exposure to nature is widely effective in reducing ADHD symptoms. Physical activity helps kids be more focused, which is especially beneficial to kids with ADHD.
6. Builds Self Confidence
The way that kids play in nature has a lot less structured than most types of indoor play. There are infinite ways to interact with outdoor environments, from the backyard to the park to the local hiking trail or lake, and letting your children choose how they treat nature means they have the power to control their actions. Also, exploring their surroundings and using their creativity are more ways to build self-confidence in your children.
7. Teaches Responsibility
It is important to me that my kids understand and appreciate the natural environment. We must all be stewards of the earth. If we don’t take care of it, we might not be here so day. I want my kids to understand that we need to take care of nature. Also, I want them to understand the interconnectedness of their lives to nature. In our over-technological world, so many of us are disconnected from nature. We need to realize that we are intrinsically a part of the earth’s ecosystem and it is our responsibility to care for it.
8. Reduces Stress and Fatigue
Just being around nature and views of green spaces help to reduce stress among children. Even better, when kids have access to natural play areas, they show more significant results (Wells and Evans, 2003). In natural environments, kids can practice an effortless type of attention known as soft fascination that creates feelings of pleasure, not fatigue. A major part of being outside is unstructured play. Play protects kids’ emotional development. It gives them the free time they need, whereas our go-go-go lifestyles contribute to anxiety and stress.
9. Gets Kids Moving
Most time spent in nature will involve some sort of physical activity or exercise. Even just exploring their surroundings will mean walking (or likely running) to check out the next bug, rock or dirt pile. Outdoor play increases fitness levels and builds active, healthy bodies.
10. Improves Social Relationships
Kids who have regular opportunities to be outside with free and unstructured play are smarter, better able to get along with others, healthier, and happier (Burdette and Whitaker, 2005). Also, kids will be more self-disciplined because views and access to green spaces enhances peace, self-control, and self-discipline (Taylor, Kuo and Sullivan, 2001), all of which will make them easier to get along with.
I found the majority of the information referenced here:
I hope you found this article helpful to understand the benefits of nature for kids. I hope it gives you more incentive to find ways to help your kids experience nature every day. Everyday, I am going to try to prioritize more opportunities for my kids to explore their natural environment. Even if that just means some time outside afterschool, I’m going to fit it in. On the weekends, I’m going to try to fit in more unstructured play time. I want to let them explore their natural environment like we did last weekend. To see the joy on my kids’ faces when they got to climb the little mountain, throw rocks in the pond, and feed the ducks swimming by was so priceless. It was a great reminder how we all need to experience nature more often.