A generation or two ago all parents were raising outdoor kids. Kids congregated in forests, parks, streets and backyards to play for hours on end only to be called in for supper or bed. As a child, I dreaded the inevitable supper call and would hide in my tree fort to outside just a little longer. Over time our culture has shifted and kids started spending less and less time outside, and now kids spend the majority of the day indoors.1
As parents we want what’s best for our children. We want to keep our kids safe, healthy and happy and help them grow up to be confident and well adjusted adults. We go above and beyond for our kids, often spending countless hours driving them to extracurricular activities each week, but in our efforts to give our kids more they often miss out on one important thing: getting outside.
5 Reasons Why I’m Raising Outdoor Kids
1. Outdoor kids are healthier.
“Let’s go outside and get some Vitamin N (Nature)” I tell my kids cheerily. “Why?” whines my youngest, “I don’t want to!” This is a regular conversation in our home. “You have to keep your body healthy” pipes in my daughter. I smile at her an give her a double thumbs up.
When kids go outside they play, run, climb and jump, and they do these things much more than they would inside. This is even true for physical education (PE) classes in school; kids move more when PE is outside.2 Outdoor play keeps kids moving and helps them maintain healthier body weight which prevents chronic health issues in childhood and even into adulthood. Being outside also helps their bodies can harness more Vitamin D from the sun to help their bones grow strong. All that dirt is beneficial too! It helps strengthen children’s immune systems, preventing issues like allergies and asthma3 . And there’s more, kids that spend time outdoors have better eyesight.4
2. Outdoor kids are happier.
The moment my kids step outside there’s a shift in the way they play. They are free to to be authentically themselves, whether that’s loud or quiet, busy or still, curious or bored, and it’s not just my kids that experience this shift. It’s been shown through research that kids start feeling relaxed within minutes of being outside around nature.5 The freedom to play outside also helps children feel less stressed, anxious and depressed.
3. Outdoor kids are stronger.
My neighbour stopped by recently and commented on how my kids were climbing everything: trees, fences, even brick retaining walls. I braced myself, expecting to be scolded, and then with a chuckle he admitted “they’re strong! my old joints can’t do that anymore”. Children that play outside on a regular basis are physically stronger. Walking along fallen logs, climbing trees, picking flowers, running up rocky hills, biking around the block and digging holes builds muscle, coordination and balance.
4. Outdoor kids are more intelligent.
Intelligence is a broad term and has many forms. Regardless, it’s becoming known that regular outdoor play, especially in nature, boosts children’s brain development in many ways. While playing outside children encounter challenges and need to find ways of solving them. This boosts their problem solving skills and creativity. This is especially true if kids are engaging in free outdoor play in nature with minimal adult intervention (the best kind of play!). Time outside also improves children’s memory, concentration and attention span,5 as well as children’s emotional and social intelligence.6
5. Outdoor kids are environmentalists.
In the end, we will conserve only what we love; we will love only what we understand and we will understand only what we are taught. -Baba Dioum
“Mama look at this litter on the beach, it’s so sad” sighs my daughter. “Why do people litter?”, she asks as she picks up plastic bottle from the sand. When children spend time outdoors they become curious about nature. What is that flower? Will poison ivy actually make me itchy? Why is that rock red? Why is there an empty bottle here? Their questions lead to answers and a better understanding of our natural world. With this knowledge they start to want to care for nature and that is how a young environmentalist is born.
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Raising Outdoor Kids Books and Resources
- Balanced and Barefoot: How Unrestricted Outdoor Play Makes for Strong, Confident, and Capable Children by Angela Hanscom
- Before They’re Gone: A Family’s Year-Long Quest to Explore America’s Most Endangered National Parks by Michael Lanza
- Beyond Ecophobia: Reclaiming the Heart in Nature Education by David Sobel
- Fifteen Minutes Outside: 365 Ways to Get Out of the House and Connect with Your Kids by Rebecca Cohen
- Free to Learn: Why Unleashing the Instinct to Play Will Make Our Children Happier, More Self-Reliant, and Better Students for Life by Peter Gray
- Home Grown: Adventures in Parenting off the Beaten Path, Unschooling, and Reconnecting withthe Natural World by Ben Hewitt
- How to Raise a Wild Child: The Art and Science of Falling in Love with Nature by Scott Sampson
- Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children From Nature-Deficit Disorder by Richard Louv
- Let Them Eat Dirt: Saving Your Child from an Oversanitized World by
- Mud Kitchen in a Day: How to Quickly Get Your Kids Outside, Playing in the Dirt, & Enjoying Creative Play by Jason Runkel Sperling
- Sharing Nature with Children by
- The Backyard Play Revolution: How to Engage Kids in Simple, Inexpensive Outdoor Play and Increase Child Health and Motor/Sensory Development by Jason Runkel Sperling
- The Green Hour: A Daily Dose of Nature for Happier, Healthier, Smarter Kids by Todd Christopher
- There’s No Such Thing as Bad Weather: A Scandinavian Mom’s Secrets for Raising Healthy, Resilient, and Confident Kids by Linda Åkeson McGurk.
- UNPLUGGED: 15 Steps to Disconnect from Technology and Reconnect with Nature, Yourself, Friends, and Family by Jason Runkel Sperling
- Vitamin N: The Essential Guide to a Nature-Rich Life by Richard Louv
- Your Brain On Nature by Eva M. Selhub
- Get Back Outside: a four-week program that gets kids, families and classrooms of students to learn about environmental issues and make a superhero difference.
- Hike It Baby: a nonprofit organization dedicated to connecting families to one another and getting them outside with a focus on children from birth to school age. Look for a branch near you.
- Child and Nature Alliance: forest and nature schools across Canada.
- Forest School and Forest School Association (UK): education, research and locations .
- Blog Post: Ultimate Guide to Forest Kindergarten Schools in the US.
- Young Naturalist Clubs/Nature Kids Clubs (Canada: BC, AB, NS)
Raising Outdoor Kids Facebook Group
Looking for more ideas, support and inspiration for raising outdoor kids? Come are join our new Facebook community: Raising Outdoor Kids.
- The 2015 ParticipACTION Report Card on Physical Activity for Children and Youth.
- Assessment of physical activity levels of 3rd and 4th grade children using pedometers during physical education class.
- Exposing kids to dirt may prevent conditions like asthma, says UBC researcher.
- The Association between Time Spent Outdoors and Myopia in Children and Adolescents: A Systematic Review and Meta-analysis.
- The Power of Outdoor Play and Play in Natural Environments.
- Discovering Nature: The Benefits of Teaching Outside of the Classroom.
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