It seems that kids nowadays don't venture outside to play as much as they used to. Rather, they have their eyes glued to their game consoles and cell phones. Afternoons spent playing tag or manhunt in the woods out back have dwindled, and the trend of binge-playing virtual reality games seems to have taken over.
While many may see no problem in the growing obsession with advanced technology, they are often unaware of the consequences it can have on a child. As kids begin to opt for gaming apps over the monkey bars, their physical and mental health may be affected.
Fresh air to breathe, new critters to encounter and name, puddles to hop in, and trees to climb and conquer - these are just a few of the obvious reasons why playtime outside is both fun and beneficial for a child. However, with childhood obesity rates on the rise - doubling within the last 20 years - and anxiety disorders affecting 1 in 8 of America's children, it is important now more than ever that kids are able to go outside and play on a regular, if not daily, basis.
Outdoor play encourages physical activity - something that sitting in front of the TV does not. When kids are outdoors, there is endless possibility for them to exercise without even being aware of it. From tag, a cardiovascular workout, to climbing trees, an activity that can build muscle and improve flexibility and coordination, even just an hour spent outdoors each day can provide a child with the opportunity to get active and have fun at the same time.
Studies have shown that spending time in nature can significantly decrease stress and anxiety. In fact, it has been found that even within just minutes of stepping outside, a child's stress levels begin to drop.
In an interview with Psychiatry Advisor, Dr. Mardie Townsend, a professor of the School of Health and Social Development at Deakin University in Australia, shared that, "There is mounting evidence that contact with nature has significant positive impacts on mental health." She went on to share that spending time in nature is "associated with reduced levels of stress - which also has huge ramifications for physical health, reduced levels of depression and anxiety, increased resilience, increased engagement in learning for children, improved self-esteem, and increased capacity to engage socially."
Playing outside can boost both creativity and imagination because it is unstructured and allows children to have free reign over how they approach the living world around them. This is obvious for all of us who had the opportunity to play outside as chidren - rocks became fortresses, streams were seen as raging rivers, and tree stumps doubled as thrones. Some days I even truly thought that the woods beside my house were my very own kingdom that no one else knew about.
Additionally, allowing your child to explore the outdoors for extended periods of time will spark fascination and curiosity in them, as all of their senses are at work. Playing outside gets kids digging their fingers in the cool dirt, smelling the flowers, hearing the birds call overhead, and seeing beautiful, natural wonders - Sensory stimulation that is not offered when playing a "virtual reality" video game, or watching a television series.
Through playing outside each day, a child's Vitamin D levels may increase. This is important because Vitamin D is crucial for healthy bone development and proper heart function. Spending time playing outside on a regular basis has even proved to lower a child's chance of developing nearsightedness, as their distance vision is put to use more often than it would if they spent that time sitting just feet away from a television screen.
Last but not least is a benefit that any busy parent will love: Children are more likely to tire themselves out through playtime outside. Running, jumping, crawling, and climbing outside for even an hour will have your little one ready for bed at a decent hour, reducing the effort you have to put forth to get them to sleep.
But what's even better? - By allowing children to spend time in nature during their early years, they develop an appreciation for it. This gives hope that they grow into adults who go on to not only respect the environment, but protect it; as it holds a special place in their hearts among their earliest, most precious memories.