The Importance Of Getting Children Outdoors


As the seasons slowly begin to change and summer looms ahead, I’ve been thinking of some of the things I’d like to do with my girls outdoors this year. We love our time in the forests, and we make sure to get outdoors for a few hours at least three or four times a week, regardless of what ‘getting outdoors’ means.

For some, this may be a play in the park, whereas for others, it could mean a walk in the forest, along the beach or across the fields. For others still, it may just be playing outside.  There is no right or wrong, but the fact of the matter is every child needs to spend time outdoors on a regular basis.

There are many benefits to children – and adults – when spending time outdoors, and there have been many studies over the years about the benefits of being outdoors; and more so in recent years, the dangers and damage caused by the lack of interaction with nature.

One of the primary benefits to children are the physical benefits of being involved in nature. It’s almost impossible to put a toddler in a park or forest and not have them running. They burn up so much energy, whether walking or running, that childhood obesity is much lower in children who spend time outside. The physical exercise, fresh air and exposure to Vitamin D from sunlight is also bound to make children sleep deeper, helping their bodies heal, develop and grow, naturally.

If you’ve ever walked along a forest path with a toddler, you’ll know that they go down on their haunches {practicing balance}, pick up tiny bugs {fine motor skills}, run {physical exercise}, ask questions {learning, absorbing}, collect stones, twigs, leaves {developing interests} and usually, if you live in a populated area or end up in a park, make friends {socialisation} and kick a ball about {hand-eye coordination, physical development}. What to you or I may be a simple exercise of getting out of the house, or going for a walk, is a huge learning and developmental session for our children.

Every minute spent engaging in nature is also a minute spent not in front of a screen, which brings a myriad of benefits of its own. Experiential learning is so much more valuable than learning second hand anyway. The State Education and Environmental Roundtable in California found that schools that use outdoor classrooms in their teaching produced student gains in social studies, science, language arts and math, improved standardized test scores and grade-point averages, and enhanced skills in problem-solving, critical thinking and decision-making and creativity.1

There’s incredible catharsis in time spent in nature. In fact, a 2003 report  showed that nature in or around the home, or simply a room with a view of a natural landscape, helped protect the psychological well-being of the children.2 Furthermore, troubled teens and children with ADD showed serious reductions in symptoms when they were exposed to nature in a study by the University of Illinois.3

We all know, too, that children are the future, and while there is a turnaround in environmental consciousness right now, and people are more interested in our carbon footprint and so on than they were even 20 years ago, if no one teaches children to value nature, there will be no one left to make changes, or protect the planet when our generation fades away. We need to teach children today to love their world.

Of course a large part of getting little ones outside is being outside with them. While I enjoy a walk as much as the next guy, I know I’m not alone in finding the time spent going at child’s pace, led by children very, very, very difficult. I can’t help but think of the laundry that could be washing or the story that needs to be written. Slowing down to toddler–pace, the only pace children really learn at, is very hard for me, and I find the dead time . . . in a word, boring.  

There are so many resources available, however, that parents can use to provide a little bit of structure (probably no more than one-third of the time spent outdoors though!) or can simply use for ideas to make us feel like the time is spent on something ‘worthwhile’. NPN Mentor Charlise has written a fabulous list of resources available in the US, and over on my blog you can find many free or almost free resources for projects, activities, and things to do in the United Kingdom. Many of these resources are usable anywhere in the world though, so have a look and see what you can use.

Whether you use organised programmes or just walk after your exploring child, however, matters less than simply getting them outdoors, and making small efforts to bring the outside into your home.

About The Author: Luschka

lvano My NPN Posts

Luschka is a mother to two little girls. She is passionate about the principles of Attachment Parenting, and although she admits to learning as she goes, she likes to share what she's learnt with others - possibly because of her experiences in adult education. AP challenges a lot of Luschka's own background, which she loves as it makes her research and study everything. She writes at Diary of a First Child , documenting the journey for those parents who don't live in idyllic isolation, but still want to follow this path with their families.

3 Responses to The Importance Of Getting Children Outdoors

  1. Charise@I Thought I Knew Mama  

    Thanks again for linking to my post, Luschka!

  2. jocelyn

    I usually bring my kids outdoors to give them enough time to play with their peers. I believe kids who always interact and play with their playmates are the most socially adjustable individuals when they grow up.