Outdoor play is on the decline at alarming rates. Studies show the massive amounts of sedentary activities for children such as multiple forms of screen time are increasingly affecting their health. Childhood obesity is on the rise as well as high blood pressure, high cholesterol, attention deficit disorder, anxiety, depression, and adult onset diabetes which is so common among young children that health care professionals are calling it Type II diabetes. As many as 80 percent of preschoolers are not spending time outside each day. That is an alarming number.
What do kids learn outside? EVERYTHING!
- Outdoor play enhances social development, learning skills, and physical fitness as well as reduces stress and anxiety. It also helps children develop stronger immune systems. Studies show outdoor play at a young age can even prevent the development of many allergies.
- Children tend to be more physically active outdoors since the terrain is more appropriate for running, jumping, and climbing. They are more creative outdoors using a wider variety of make believe play. In addition, children develop better social skills outdoors as the environment leads to less stress and pressure. They are more able to express themselves socially. Many studies have shown children are more likely to be creative outdoors as well as are more able to concentrate on their school work after having time to play outdoors. Vitamin D, which is critical for growth and development, is increased when spending time outdoors in the sun.
- Improved long distance vision, gross motor skills, and sensory development are a few of the physical benefits of outdoor play, but the list is immeasurable. In addition to the physical and emotional benefits, there is also a lot of cognitive learning that can be done outside. Observing insects, animals, and plants teaches science. There is math everywhere, even counting the leaves on a clover. Playing outdoors covers a multitude of things children need for successful development. We could all use more time outdoors. Fresh air and sunshine benefits everyone.
What does this mean for schools who are reducing recess and physical education time in order to give more time for academics? I find it sad and alarming. I see behavior disorders on the rise, health problems on the rise, and other problems on the rise, and I see the public school system putting more pressure on children to perform on tests and less emphasis on physical well being. I’m not sure that’s the right answer. Research shows outside play increases attention span, so why are we not using the research to plan our schedules?
Remember back to your childhood and you will probably have fond memories of running, riding your bike, or skating all over the neighborhood. Those were the times when you developed endurance, imagination, motor skills, balance, relationships and so many other things that are vital to you. Safety today is more of a concern than it was during my childhood and exploring unsupervised is no longer an option in our current culture today. Kids can still spend time outside, we just have to do more to be present with them. There is still plenty to learn and explore right in your own back yard. Kids just need a chance to get out there.
Do your best to get your kids outside for at least a few minutes every day. Their mind, body and soul will be better for it! And so will yours.