Children spend less time playing outside each day than prison inmates spend outside. In the United States inmates are guaranteed two hours of outdoor time every day, but a recent survey found that one-third of kids only spend 30 minutes outside each day.
Why is this such a big deal? Because the habits and health benefits of going outside to play (or spending too much time inside) will follow your child for the rest of their life.
How exactly is my child affected by outside time?
You may already know that spending too much time inside can negatively affect your child physically, but did you also know it has an effect on your child’s mental health as well? Listed below are the physical and mental effects of outside play:
Not getting outside enough has been linked to low vitamin D levels. 7 in 10 U.S. kids have low vitamin D levels because it’s hard for kids to get enough Vitamin D from their diet alone. But the body will make its own vitamin D by having direct sunshine for at least 10 minutes a day.
Spending too much time inside has also been linked to higher rates of obesity. This study came to the conclusion that the more screen time your child has, the more likely they are to be overweight or even obese. Which is all the more reason to ditch the screens and head outside.
Going outside, moving their body, and learning physical skills and limits all improve your child’s kinaesthetic intelligence. Kinaesthetic intelligence is “The sensory awareness of the position and movement of your body.” Why is this important? Kinaesthetic intelligences helps your child learn to regulate their body movement. It has been suggested that children who have mastered movement of their body, are better at being able to sit still. Allowing them to quiet their body and engage their mind in learning new skills.
Spending time outside has a huge positive impact on your child’s mental development. According to a scientific study from the Aarhus University in Denmark, “High levels of green space presence during childhood are associated with a lower risk of a wide spectrum of psychiatric disorders later in life.”
So taking your child outside, especially to “green spaces” will help them avoid mental health problems in the future. The study also found that “children who grew up with the lowest levels of green space had up to 55% higher risk of developing a psychiatric disorder.”
This information is compounded by the fact that children who spend hours of their time on screens are at an increased risk for depression.
What can you do to help your child spend more time outside?
1. Find a safe place for your child to explore and play outside. This may be your fenced in backyard, or it might be a neighborhood playground. But it’s important to get your child outside almost everyday.
2. Plan an outside family activity at least twice a month. This could mean going on family bike rides together in the summer, or sledding as a family in the winter. Find activities that you can all enjoy year round.
3. When possible, take your child out to explore “green spaces”. Depending on where you live this might mean a drive up the canyon for a family friendly hike, or a drive to the beach for the day. It doesn’t necessarily have to be a structured outing. Kids often find joy in just being somewhere new.
Hopefully with a little effort we can raise a generation that loves to be play outside, and is passionate about preserving and protecting our natural environment. Because we are all learning just how important our outside world truly is to our physical and mental health.