Getting Outside is Good for Your Kids: Here’s Why
Just because something is a cliché doesn’t mean it’s not also true. Every day, we are bombarded with more evidence that our tech has taken over our lives. Getting outside is no longer a given. As we read such updates (on our phones, of course), how often do we ponder the role modern technology plays in shaping the lives of our kids? Surely, spending major chunks of the day cooped up inside while staring at screens must impact the development of young minds and bodies. But is getting outside all it’s cracked up to be? (Hint: yes.)
American children, on average, spend over 7 hours a day in front of some kind of screen. Conversely, those same kids average a meager 4 to 7 minutes a day in unstructured outdoor play. We intuitively know there must be benefits to getting outdoors, but what does the research say?
Some Proven Benefits of Getting Outside for Outdoor Play
- Increased brain power. Spending time outdoors improves cognitive functioning in children, such as planning and organizing.
- Focus & increased attention span. Kid with ADHD? Studies show that as little as a 20-minute walk outdoors will boost attention span.
- Lowered stress hormone levels (cortisol).
- Better sleep. Natural light normalizes your sleep schedule and helps regulate melatonin production in your body.
- Reduced attention fatigue and improved mental performance. On the other hand, mentally challenging activities, such as video games, use a higher level of the body’s energy and deplete brainpower.
- Increased positive feelings. Simply spending time outdoors decreases activity in the part of the brain responsible for ruminating on negative thoughts and feelings. It’s also soothing!
- Increased confidence. Outdoor play is self-directed and gives kids more choices which they control. Boredom even provides a good problem-solving challenge (don’t rush in to provide options, let kids figure it out).
- Leaps in imagination and creativity. Children’s play is more imaginative in natural settings than in any other.
A Few Ways to Battle the Social Trend of Indoor Life
With temperatures cooling down in Houston, getting outdoors is doable and fun!
Start With a “Green Hour”
This idea comes courtesy of the National Wildlife Federation (NWF). Setting aside even on hour for “unstructured play and interaction with the natural world” can be the gateway to challenging the allure of those glowing screens. Doing it together as a family has the added bonus of bonding and connection.
This is the kind of reinforcing activity is not only fun but it also inspires new patterns. Try geocaching, there are several ways to discover interesting parts of Houston with the whole family. Visit: www.geocaching.com/play/search
Hiking and Nature Walks
Besides the obvious physical benefits of a good hike, turning it into a nature walk will also stimulate any kid’s mind. Memes can be mesmerizing but they pale in comparison to living, breathing wildlife. Take a stroll to the closest park, we have several in the Heights. Pay attention to the details. What birds or bugs can you find? Listen to the sounds you hear. Try Brazos Bend State Park if you have more time.
Using Tech as a Tool
Bring the phones along and turn your outdoor time into a photo walk or the start of a video journal. Can you say “best of both worlds”?
Another reinforcing activity, gardening can lead to a longer-term commitment to being outside. You don’t need much yard space to start gardening – just a pot will do!
Get creative and find activities that are best suited for the outdoors. Whether playing catch, catching bugs for a bug jar, or flying an airplane, there are several tools to help engage kids outdoors.
Parents, put down your devices and lead the way! Leading by example is a time-proven motivation.
When Indoor Life Becomes Too Tough to Kick
The mind of young people are still developing and thus, quite susceptible to habit. Some kids literally grow addicted to life near electrical outlets. As a result, the idea of getting outside for outdoor play feels too boring, daunting or even impossible. At such a juncture, it makes sense to ask for help.
Counseling is an option for children and/or their parents. Working closely with a professional creates space for developing new approaches and perspectives. If things feel stuck for you and your family, reach out for help. Eddins Counseling Group offers services for parents and children. Contact 832-559-2622 for more information or book an appointment online.
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