Finally, it’s springtime. In many parts of the northern hemisphere, the outdoors is beckoning us outside again, making it easier to go for a walk or play in the park. There is a growing body of research showing the enormous benefits of doing just that, and encouraging your children to do the same.
20 Benefits of Spending Time Outdoors, Especially in Natural Settings
- Increased happiness and
- A higher sense of well-being
- Lower stress
- Better coping skills
- Increased energy
- Better balance
- Better coordination
- Stronger muscles and bones
- Improved health, enhanced immunity, reduced risk of obesity
- Enhanced attention, focus, and academic achievement
- Increased creativity
- Better critical thinking and problem-solving skills
- Improved social skills
- Reduced social, emotional, and learning problems
- Stronger resilience
- Higher self-esteem
- Increased environmental awareness
- Greater attunement to nature and the environment
- More opportunities for exploration, discovery, and risk-taking
- Enhanced experiences of inspiration and wonder
In spite of the enormous benefits of outdoor time, it can be easier to keep your kids indoors. Inside, you may feel you have more control over what they’re doing and are better able to do your own work. Here are some ideas to help overcome that resistance.
20 Ways to Increase and Enhance Your Child’s Outdoor Time
- Limit time on devices. Establish reasonable limits on technology. You will be amazed at the number of hours freed up for healthier activities.
- Minimize commuting time. Look for schools and activities your child can walk to, or a minimal commuting distance away.
- Use your own power to get places. Walk or ride a bike whenever possible.
- Make outdoor time part of your daily routine. Think about fresh air as a priority, as urgent as school or work or sleep.
- Be enthusiastic about nature. Even in the middle of a busy city, you can celebrate the color of the sky at sunset, the buds on the trees getting ready to pop, or the sighting of a new bird.
- Make an outdoor happy place. Find a sandbox or dirt pile for digging, a water feature, and some kind of swing to swing on. Encourage your child to build a play fort.
- Talk about where food comes from. Look for opportunities to point out where and how food grows.
- Grow food. Invite your child to help plant, weed, water, and harvest your family’s food. This can be on your own outdoor patch, a windowsill, an allotment, or a community garden.
- Co-ordinate with other families. If you don’t have time to supervise outdoor play every day, coordinate with other families to watch each others’ kids (as with a carpool).
- Include outdoor activity in school decision-making. Choose a daycare, preschool, or school that values and prioritizes outdoor time for kids.
- Advocate for nature at your child’s school. Encourage the school to extend outdoor recess periods. Suggest a nature studies program, a community garden, and outdoor field trips.
- Celebrate the rain. Welcome rainy days as opportunities to put on your rain gear and go splashing with your kids.
- Use puddles as natural water tables. Let your child explore scientific properties like floating and sinking by experimenting with leaves, sticks, rocks, and other items they find. Why do ripples form when you drop a rock into a puddle? How big does a puddle need to be before you can make waves in it?
- Listen to weather music. Notice the whispering or howling or whining of the wind, the padded stillness of the fog, the calm silence of a snowy day, and the many different sounds that rain makes.
- Smell the smells. As with sounds, every day and every place smells different. Each season’s odors are surprisingly complex. Not always good, but always interesting.
- Take a neighborhood nature walk. You might make a map showing all the places where you found a maple tree, or a rhododendron bush, or strong and healthy weeds growing through the sidewalk cracks.
- Join a local citizen science project. Some ideas: Canada’s Citizen Science portal, David Suzuki’s scistarter, Ontario’s Citizen Science page, National Geographic’s Citizen Science page, Scientific American’s Citizen Science page
- Go outdoors as a family. Have a picnic, go to a playground, take a hike, visit an outdoor nature center, play ball, go for a bike ride.
- Take an after-dinner walk. Even if it’s just a fifteen-minute walk around the block or down the road, this can help with digestion, and also lead to a better sleep for everyone.
- Strive for balance. Try for an hour a day of outdoor time, but when your child isn’t feeling well, or your family system is under duress, loosen the schedule and make up for it later.