My best childhood memories all took place outdoors. Whether it was rowing around Squirrel Cove in Desolation Sound in our dingy, or riding bikes around Lord’s Hill, most of my childhood was spent outside. We wielded machetes and hacked a trail down our hill to a beautiful forested valley where we made forts with logs, sticks and ferns. We fished at the Stillaguamish River and rode our air mattresses down the rapids. Everything we did was outdoors. One of the main reasons for this was my strict mom. She allowed us one hour of TV per day, and she circled two 30-minute shows for us to watch in the TV Guide. They were always on PBS.
In an article in the Washington Post called, “Kids do not spend nearly enough time outside. Here’s how (and why) to change that” by Collin O’Mara he lists a number of benefits your children–and yourself can enjoy–by spending more hours outdoors. Collin O’Mara is the president and CEO of the National Wildlife Federation and a father of two.
Here is a sobering statistic: The average American child spends five to eight hours a day in front of a digital screen, often at the expense of unstructured play in nature. The good news is departing from this trend is easier than you think, and quality outside time can fit into even the busiest of schedules. It is worth the effort; the benefits go beyond a little time spent in the fresh air.
Over the past few decades, children’s relationship with the great outdoors and nature has changed dramatically. Since the 1990s researchers have noticed a shift in how children spend their free time. The days of the free-range childhood, where kids spend hours outside playing in local parks, building forts, fording streams and climbing trees, have been mostly replaced by video games, television watching and organized activities such as sports and clubs.
Here are a few of the benefits:
Better school performance. Time spent in nature and increased fitness improve cognitive function.
More creativity. Outdoor play uses and nurtures the imagination.
Much higher levels of fitness. Kids are more active when they are outdoors.
More friends. Children who organize their own games and participate in unstructured group activities are less solitary and learn to interact with their peers.
Less depression and hyperactivity. Time in nature is soothing, improves mood and reduces stress. It can also increase kids’ attention span, because things move at a slower pace than they do on the screen.
Stronger bones. Exposure to natural light helps prevent vitamin D deficiency, making outdoorsy children less vulnerable to bone problems, cardiovascular disease, diabetes and other health issues.
Improved eyesight. Time spent outdoors can help combat increasing diagnoses of nearsightedness.
Better sleep. Exposure to natural light, and lots of physical activity, help reset a child’s natural sleep rhythms.
A longer life span and healthier adult life. Active kids are more likely to grow into active adults.
And the best part, all of these benefits — especially those related to health and well-being — also apply to the adults spending more time with their children outdoors.
I believe my kids love being outdoors. From the time my son was two years old until the kids went off to college, we rented a house in Laguna Beach. This was because close friends took on a three-month rental and asked us to take half of the summer. Because we live where most summer days are over 110 degrees and as hot as 126, we jumped at the chance. I took the kids to the beach every day, and while I sat reading, they played in the sand and waves. They had to use their imaginations and I loved watching their elaborate playtime. The rest of the year, when we were home, we spent long hours in the park where they played with friends. We moms would set out blankets and sit and chat while our kids climbed on a stagecoach or the turtle-shaped fountains.
As the kids got older, we literally moved our lives on deck and spent hours with the swim team. But, although that time was structured, it was still outside.
What are your favorite childhood memories? Are they mostly outside, too?