Have you ever spent a day outside only to come home feeling like a different person? A little energized, a bit more clearheaded, a lot more relaxed? Or watched your kids fall instantly, peacefully to sleep after spending a good long time out in the fresh air and sunshine? Those health benefits of kids spending time outdoors aren't in your imagination. They're backed by real research and proven to affect almost every aspect of our well being, from physical to social to intellectual to emotional, and are for every kid, no matter their background.
Here are just a few benefits of the outdoors:
- Decreased levels of anxiety, depression and stress
- Weight loss, lower blood pressure and lower risk of diabetes and other disease
- Increased confidence and creativity
- Improved concentration and cognitive abilities
And these outdoor-time perks aren't only showing up in adults. Nature has been shown to have a lot of the above benefits in kids, too, as well as alleviating some symptoms of ADHD—not to mention that "children who regularly spend time in the outdoors report feelings of greater peace, freedom, confidence, mystery, wonder, awe, and joy."
With all the buzz about the benefits of spending time outside, it's no wonder that new industries are cropping up around it—doctors prescribing "ecotherapy," high-end spas offering guided " Forest bathing" (the Japanese art of reconnecting with nature)—all designed to promote an idea that's actually pretty simple: getting outside is good, and we should do more of it.
But how exactly should busy families go about securing all these great benefits of spending time outdoors (without resorting to ecotherapy prescriptions or forest bathing spa days or expensive trips to uncharted rain forests)? Here are some easy ideas for helping your kids (and you) get their healthy outdoor fix on:
- Give your kids permission to get dirty. Set aside clothes and shoes they can destroy in the dirt (and places in your yard or house they're free to get dirty) and let them sink their hands into all that satisfyingly messy, healthy-bacteria-rich mud and muck.
- Have your kids help you with the gardening. Whether you're tending a beautiful bed of flowers, growing veggies for dinner or simply clearing a patch of weeds, it's incredibly gratifying (and useful!) work. Add a bird feeder or birdbath to the mix to encourage visits from feathered friends that you and your kids can learn to identify.
- Take a nature scavenger hunt around the neighborhood. Or if that feels too ambitious, just take an impromptu ramble around the block, drawing your kids' attention to what's growing, buzzing and flying along your own street.
- Go for an evening walk or bike ride to observe how the world looks different at dusk. How do the light and temperature change? What insects and other creatures disappear or appear? When can you start seeing the moon and stars?
- Take your indoor activities outside. Whether it's a midday round of checkers under a tree or a cozy nighttime cocoa under the stars, give your book/board game/lunch a fun new twist with a breath of fresh air.
- Explore a local (or not so local, if you have some time) zoo, farm or botanical garden. Pick your own apples or berries.
- Venture into the backyard for a fun, easy campout in the great outdoors. If your kids are up for it, they can sleep there on their own.
- Cook a meal outside together, on your patio barbeque or a camping stove on a weekend expedition. Eat there, too. Everything tastes better outside.
- Send your kids to camp. Whether day or overnight camp, they'll love spending time with friends away from home, building confidence and independence.
Wherever you live, whatever your schedule, you can find wonderful ways to enjoy the benefits of spending time outdoors. Even a little bit of nature can do a lot of good.
Read about other benefits from spending time outdoors.