Technology has most kids spending more time inside. On average, children in the US spend about seven minutes playing outside compared to seven hours of screen time per day. But enjoying the outdoors shouldn’t be an afterthought; it’s actually necessary. Research shows that kids who regularly play outside are less anxious, stay focused, and are generally happier than those who don’t.
Playtime in nature can build a child’s confidence because the boundaries of being indoors are removed. They are free to practice actions and movement, be creative and rely on their imaginations. Kids can invent ways to interact with nature. They can hike and explore, discover new plants and animals, find hiding spaces, and build structures and tools from natural materials.
How Nature Play Inspires Learning
Outdoors, children learn about living things and what they need to grow. Having a garden can teach them responsibility by watering a plant and weeding the soil to keep it alive. They learn that plants are food for humans and animals and even provide shelter. Kids can spot bird nests and rabbit holes to understand just how much outdoor life is around them.
Being outside gets kids moving around. Their bodies need exercise to focus energy on activities, and their minds need to feel engaged. Without movement, they become bored and stressed. Fresh air and sunlight improve everyone’s health. Simply sitting outside can be calming.
Like all animals, humans have been closely connected to the natural environment from the beginning. The land was our home, and our food came directly from nature. Now our yards and community spaces have become extensions of our homes. Outdoor environments provide us with physical and psychological health benefits.
Nature Play Research
Children in modern culture have become more disconnected from nature. The decrease in outdoor play combined with increasing indoor screentime led to a new term called ‘Nature deficit disorder.’ While it is not a clinical condition, separating ourselves from nature does come at a cost.
Recent studies link less contact with the natural world in childhood to declining mental health in adulthood. These studies were conducted across four different European countries to find that a lack of childhood nature experiences can cause nervousness and depression later in life.
It was also found that children growing up in natural surroundings reduced the risk of developing a mental disorder as an adult by 55 percent. The more time we spend living in and around nature, the more we build up positive associations that correlate to better physical and mental health, as well as character development. These are just a few of the fantastic benefits for kids that they will carry into adulthood:
Mental Benefits of Nature Play
- Better cognition, thinking, short-term memory, and focus
- Greater resilience against stress
- Improved moods, mindfulness, and confidence
- Decreased anxiety, anger, and ADHD symptoms
- Regulated sensory input for the nervous system
Physical Benefits of Nature Play
- Lowered blood pressure
- Decreased rates of obesity
- Increased vitamin D and energy levels
- Reduced risk of heart and bone disease
- Improved eyesight, balance, and muscle mass
- Strengthened immune system
Character Building Benefits of Nature Play
- More creativity, imagination, awe, and wonder
- Increased awareness of the environment and world
- Greater responsibility and healthy risk-taking
- Stronger experimentation and critical thinking skills
- Improved social skills and self-discipline
- More empathy, kindness, and satisfaction
Getting Children Outside for Nature Play
It’s not always easy to get our kids outside. Let’s Go Outside Box has tools to help you get your family back to nature and boost playful learning to increase their mental and physical health and well-being. We suggest trying our monthly activity boxes for engaging and challenging activities for all ages.
To reduce your child’s time inside and on digital devices, check out our [list of children’s books] with fun stories, nature pictures, and new ideas for outdoor exploration. We offer education and advice on our Facebook, Pinterest, and Instagram pages too!
Pruess, A., 40 Astounding Benefits of Outdoor Nature Play for Kids, https://parentswithconfidence.com/40-astounding-benefits-outdoor-nature-play-kids/
Child Mind Institute, Why Kids Need to Spend Time in Nature, https://childmind.org/article/why-kids-need-to-spend-time-in-nature/
Louv, R., 2019. What is Nature-Deficit Disorder? http://richardlouv.com/blog/what-is-nature-deficit-disorder
Suttie, J., 2016. How to Protect Kids from Nature-Deficit Disorder, https://greatergood.berkeley.edu/article/item/how_to_protect_kids_from_nature_deficit_disorder