A dear friend of mine as a child was routinely locked out of the house, along with her brothers and sisters, and, not so gently, encouraged to play outside for hours at a time. This parental mandate for outside time made my friend, along with her siblings, into resilient and resourceful adults. On the other hand, I know quite a few adults who had the opposite experience, spending much of their childhood indoors kept company by family pets, siblings, and televisual entertainment. These people, I find, are either eager, but hopelessly clueless, when it comes to outdoor pursuits or utterly disinterested in anything that would take them outside of a Wi-Fi zone.
The issue at hand is not about adults (no, that ship has sailed) it is about the children. Everyone who has ever cracked open a child development tome knows that the first few years of a person’s life are a time of great potential, and fostering a familiarity with nature and the great outdoors is essential for physical and mental development. But sadly, nearly half of 3 to 5 year-old children are not taken outdoors by a parent or caregiver every day, according to research presented in the Archives of Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine this week, as reported by CNN. The recommendations, for those of you that are interested or have children currently loafing in their room, is that children get as much outside time as humanly possible (short of locking the children out of the house and risking hypothermia).
The suggestion by The American Academy of Pediatrics is that children get a minimum of one hour a day, as outdoor physical activity is good for gross motor development as well as helps with vision, coordination, and soaking up some vitamin D from the sun. But sadly, only about 50 percent of children between the ages of 3 and 5 are even getting the suggested minimum, with some not even stepping outside most days. “There is evidence that play – just sort of the act of playing – is important for children’s development of their social skills and their peer interactions,” Dr. Pooja Tandon of Seattle Children’s Research Institute told CNN. “Being outdoors affords children an opportunity to play in ways that they may not get to when they’re indoors.”
But it may not be just as simple as unplugging the children and shoving them outdoors. Sure there are some children who are more than happy to dig in the dirt and explore a sandbox, open field, city park, etc. for hours, but many, if not most, children need a little guidance – especially if they are used to indoor activity and being guided by parents and caregivers toward action. The CNN article is scarce on suggestions as how to move apathy toward action in this regard, but to be sure, some parental guidance might be called for, at least in the beginning. I recently had some success with a spring treasure hunt and have gotten some golden ideas from the book I Love Dirt by Jennifer Ward. But as any parent with a motivation problem knows, it always helps to gather advice/perspective from the masses. If you have great outdoor activities that are engaging, motivating, and entertaining enough to keep the kids out for lengthy stretches of time, please do share.