Health & Wellness Articles

Why Kids Need to Spend Time Outdoors

Does Your Child Suffer from Nature Deficit Disorder?

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Meanwhile, the California-based State Education and Environmental Roundtable, a national effort to study environment-based education, found that schools that use outdoor classrooms, among other techniques, produce student gains in social studies, science, language arts and math; improved standardized test scores and grade-point averages; and enhanced skills in problem-solving, critical thinking and decision-making. In addition, evidence suggests that time in natural surroundings stimulates children's creativity.

People who care about children and the future of the environment need to know about such research, but for the most part, they do not. Today we see dramatic increases in childhood obesity, attention difficulties and depression. When these issues are discussed at the conference table or the kitchen table, direct childhood experience in nature is seldom mentioned. Yet, the growing nature deficit experienced by today's children, and potentially for generations to come, may be the most important common denominator.

I am not suggesting that we bring back the free-range childhood of the 1950s. Those days are over. But, with a deeper understanding of the importance of nature play to healthy child development, and to their sense of connection to the world, we can create safe zones for nature exploration. We can preserve the open space in our cities, and even design and build new kinds of communities, using the principles of green urbanism. We can weave nature therapy into our health-care system, natural experiences into our classrooms. In education, we can build a No Child Left Inside movement.

And, we can challenge environmental organizations to take this issue seriously. For if the disconnection between children and nature continues, who will become the future stewards of the earth—and who will swing on birches?

Posted with permission from the Grow Outside Guide to Outdoor Play, published by the Leave No Child Inside Collaborative of Greater Cincinnati.
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About The Author

Leave No Child Inside Leave No Child Inside
Through education and community engagement, the Leave No Child Inside Collaborative of Greater Cincinnati promotes children's outdoor play, learning and lifelong connection with nature. Learn more at www.LNCIGC.org.

Member Comments

  • Getting outside isn't always easy but my husband and I try. I take my child bike-riding often;although finding a bike path that is safe for kids is a challenge. Once a week we go swimming. We also go to the local botanical garden where they have a wonderful children's garden. Star gazing through the museum is great night-time fun. We also light the fire pit outside and look for satellites!

    Even though I live next to a school, there really aren't any kids in our community for my daughter to play with. Usually, we have to schedule something in advance and drive. Many of the parents that I speak to also do this. Some they tell me that they have to do this in order to protect them from bad kids! - 6/8/2014 5:42:40 AM
  • Why is free range play over? If the risks are down there should be no problem. My biggest fears letting my kids play outside on their own isn't stranger danger but whackos calling CAS or the police out of over concern, as has happened to far too many parents. Something is wrong when irrational fear is hurting our children's health! - 10/6/2013 9:01:12 AM
  • SUNFLOWERGAMMY
    I purchased the book some years back and was blessed to be running a museum with a. NATURE PRESERVE and every week took our aftershocks students out on the trails. They loved it and learned so much! - 9/22/2013 4:02:46 PM
  • I think children should play outside . It is heathly. When I was a child we had the biggest,level yard and all the kids all ages came down and we played kick ball. We had a little pond and a creek that ran through our yard, my cousins and I would wade the creek and pretend we were marimaids. The great outdoors can bring great imagination, and that is a good way of improving the brain power.It is healthly for children to get dirty. So I say get out and play. I think it is wonderful when schools have playgrounds,that might me the onlt chance some kids can go out and play. Hats off to the ones who help create, this areas at schools. - 9/17/2012 8:42:09 AM
  • IRONGRANNIE
    I live in a small country town with lots of open space. Open my back gate and there are hundreds of acres of National Park but my city dwelling grandsons never venture out of the door into the garden let alone the park. And just try to get them to the beach! No way! But they will swim in the indoor pool.
    They are totally hooked up to electronic devices every minute of the day but I don't think it is my role to disconnect them.
    I will keep trying to get them outdoors, though. - 4/22/2011 12:49:44 AM
  • My child is free-range.
    He is also lovingly protected from the assault of television, computer game & internet culture.
    I honestly cannot comprehend the why people permit media pollution in their homes.
    My partner & I work in music & multimedia, we are acutely aware of the means of production. - 4/21/2011 10:58:12 PM
  • MARAHAB
    I grew up outdoors! Love it. After reading about the benefits of outdoor classrooms, I organized an effort at my school to put one in. Planted lots of trees, a butterfly garden, entrance gardens, and had a classroom shelter built. We planted a lot of our gardens with flowers grown from seed and that led to a lot of measurement, comparing size of seed to size of plant, speed of growth and so on. The whole school was involved in the planting of trees and gardens.

    My classes (second grade) also did Journey North tulip gardens and this led to joining in signs of spring, monarch watch, etc. The students also helped maintain the gardens.

    What did the 1/2 hour a day do for those students? You would not believe the growth that those made in volunteering their time. Yes, no one was forced to do this! They grew socially, working together as a team and their math performance was increased. They journaled about their observations and read about different habitats and plant needs. They improved their reading skills!

    When we got a new principal who did not understand this, we could no longer do it, so that gardens got torn out and a lot of the plants we'd grown went home with her for her new house. - 4/12/2011 12:46:19 PM
  • Amen!!

    During my career in public education I helped develop Outdoor Education programs and a residential ourdoor camp. Unfortunately, the cuts in financial support for education greatly impact these kinds of programs and student participation.

    Our CA State Park Docent volunteer program in addition to providing free outdoor experiences for students helps raise money to pay for transportation for classes to come to the parks. Many of us try to open this door for our children.

    The schools will still try to do it all for their students, and will get blamed for their inability to provide everything for all students. But ultimately, it was and is the parents responsibility to see that their children get these experiences. - 4/12/2011 11:35:33 AM
  • I thought the article was good but didn't agre ewith how public schools are scaring kids out of nature. Not sure how that works being in public education. I would love to spend more time outside but labs and other work keep us inside. Not scarying but time and materials not able too is more like it.

    I do agree that parents and kids are blasted with stranger danger. I grew up able to run aorund town with my siblings or friends but that was a different time and for my children a totally different setting (extreme small town, 50 people vs. a subdivision that has around 50 houses). My kids still og out an play but I go to the park with them, we have a fence so they don't wonder off and we watch when they ride their bikes. Mine are 6 right now and that seems reasonable that my stranger danger will get better over time. - 4/12/2011 10:58:57 AM
  • HARMONY71
    Great Article!. Good points raised.
    I was very blessed to grow up on the family farm (5 1/2 thousand acres) about 200miles from the major city.That was until I was 8 years old when we came to the city where we lived on a 1/3 acre block as well as our neighbour friends blocks .

    Now that is not possible for the reasons mentioned in the article. I am fortunate to live on 1/2 acre and it is very interesting to see the difference in my grandchildren when they go out and play way down the back in the 'cubby house ' and dirt. Out side not a cross word, just playing happily, yet inside grumpy and fighting especially at home where they only have a very small block.
    A few weeks back my other daughter and I took the 3 kids down to a riverside bushland in our area and they loved it, enjoying the open air, birds and trees and it was totally free!

    So we do need some alternatives that provide the experence in relative freedom and safely since not all grannys have big backyards!

    Thankyou for posting this from Richard - 4/12/2011 6:31:37 AM

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