7. It May Improve Behavior
A pair of recent studies suggest time outdoors can improve children’s behavior. In 2018, Tanja Sobko and Gavin Brown of The University of Hong Kong and the University of Auckland found that preschoolers who spent time in nature showed kindness toward others more often than primarily indoor children and were similarly less likely to suffer from emotional problems.
Also, in 2018, Gert-Jan Vanaken and Marina Danckaerts discovered that regular time spent in green spaces reduced children’s risk of developing hyperactivity and attention deficit disorders.
There’s also the phenomenon parents have known for generations: Kids who play vigorously outdoors for a while come back inside with less energy for causing trouble. It worked for our grandparents, and it will work for us.
8. It Helps Them See More Clearly
Yes, time spent in nature can give you perspective about life’s challenges and problems, but that’s not what we’re talking about here.Instead, we’re talking about your child’s literal eyesight. Although heredity is the most critical factor in whether or not a child will develop nearsightedness, several studies have shown time spent outdoors can delay the onset of developing myopia.
For example, a 2015 Chineses study showed first graders who received an extra 40 minutes outside daily were less likely to develop myopia for the subsequent three years.
Research has yet to determine why this is so. It’s possible the break from close-vision work helps exercise the muscles responsible for lens contraction, or the extra Vitamin D helps eye development. It might be something entirely different. For now, we just know it can help preserve long-distance vision.
9. It Makes Them Smarter
We’ve already discussed how time outdoors improves social skills, risk-taking, and attention span. Those benefits combine with the fact that nature provides an endless series of small challenges your child must solve, often in combination.
To cross a stream requires calculating jumping distances or improvising tools to build a bridge. Organizing a game of tag requires solving interpersonal problems. Even getting out of the sun means scanning the immediate area to locate sources of shade large enough to keep playing.
Spending time in an environment that makes these consistent mental demands helps your child practice their problem-solving, observational, and predictive skills. This kind of regular exercise of their higher-order thinking skills translates directly into improving many different types of intelligence.
10. It Reduces Obesity
A multi-university study of school-aged children found that body mass index (BMI) scores were significantly lower for those who spent more time outdoors than those who were primarily inside. The more time spent outside, the closer to healthy levels the BMIs became. Children who spent an extra hour outdoors were 27% to 41% less likely to become obese.
As with some other results we’ve mentioned here, the researchers note it’s unlikely that simply being outside caused this benefit. For example, a child playing video games in her backyard would have the same risk of obesity as the other indoor children. Rather, going outside correlates with other healthy activities that do directly reduce obesity.
11. It Encourages Them to Embrace Their Inner ScientistChildren are natural scientists. From their first moments as infants, they explore their environment, form hypotheses, test them through activity, revise, retest, and eventually form theories that help them explore the world.
The outdoors is filled with opportunities to continue performing this kind of scientific exploration. This can be random and unstructured, as your child overturns logs, watches bugs, and learns about the local flora and fauna. It can also be structured, as you use green spaces and places as a platform for teaching science facts and the scientific method.
Neil Degrasse Tyson famously said the best way to raise scientists is to get out of their way while they’re still young and curious. To this, we would add, send them outdoors.
12. It Reduces Stress
Even brief time spent in nature reduces anxiety, improves concentration, and stimulates the body to release various feel-good and relaxation hormones.
The average child today is exposed to more information more quickly and in contexts where they have less power to impact it. Schools focus on testing rather than learning, making their education far more stressful. Even the pace of video games is faster and more demanding. Now more than ever, some relaxing time in nature is called for.
How to Get Your Kids Outside?It’s one thing to tell you all the reasons your kids should go outdoors. It’s another to get them to put down the tablet or XBox controller and go outside.
Your best bet is to lead by example. Take the kids outdoors with you and engage in quality time together out in nature. Talk about the things you love to do outside, and teach them the outdoor skills you value.
Bribery is always a strong parenting option. Sell screen time allotments in exchange for time spent outdoors, at a 1:2 rate or better, to motivate kids to play outside. In many cases, once you’ve got them out there, they’ll end up getting engrossed in an outdoor game or discovery and spend far more time than they had planned.