Moving Childhood Back Outdoors

Kate Leavitt | Chief Program Officer

One of the greatest gifts we can give our kids is right outside. We have long known that unstructured outdoor play time has positive effects on children’s happiness, and physical and mental health. A recent paper* looking at nearly 300 studies tightens up previous research gaps to incontrovertibly corroborate truths our grandparents have been touting for decades. The benefits of children’s exposure to nature are profound, particularly in light of today’s public health crises of physical inactivity and mental health.

Time spent outdoors in nature can make kids healthier, happier, smarter and better champions of the environment.

 

We all have differing levels of access to greenspaces near our homes and varying amounts of time and opportunity to nurture safe and meaningful outdoor time. The good news is that any increase in time spent outdoors makes a positive difference. Setting goals to match screen times with unstructured outdoor play and time in nature is a good start.

Simple unstructured free play outside is so powerful. Children’s days are heavily structured with school, sports and strict schedules. Most American children spend only 4-7 minutes engaged in free play outdoors each day. This time outside is precious and formative and contributes to their social, cognitive and physical development. 

Family exploration and nature time is another fun way to spend time together and to show your children the value of getting outside and unplugging. Spring is the perfect time to explore New Hampshire’s beautiful parks, trails and beaches. Encourage your child to help design your adventures, including the habitats they’d like to explore and the snacks and supplies they might need to help enjoy the experience. You can access Seacoast Science Center’s free resources, Your Learning Connection and DIY Adventures, at www.seacoastsciencecenter.org to help spark ideas and guide your explorations. 

As adults we all recognize the importance of slowing down, taking a breath, getting outside and enjoying unstructured time in nature. Breathe easy. The act is simple, but the impacts are far-reaching. 

*Fyfe-Johnson, Amber L., et al. “Nature and Children’s Health: A Systematic Review.” Pediatrics 148.4 (2021).

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