by Ann Aull, Early Childhood Adult Educator
Childhood has moved indoors. The average American child spends only 30 minutes in unstructured outdoor playtime[i] as opposed to nearly seven hours of screen time.[ii] As child care providers, we know that parents often enroll children in organized sports early and spend time outside watching children play. Guess what? All those summer soccer and baseball games do not count as the type of outdoor play that children need. It is up to us to make sure the children in our care are getting the play time they need to nurture their body, mind, and spirit.
Here are a few of the benefits outside time can provide our children:
- Children run, jump, skip, and climb outside, which naturally increases fitness levels and prevents childhood obesity.
- Outside time raises levels of Vitamin D, which helps children prevent future health problems.
- Exposure to natural settings may be widely effective in reducing ADHD symptoms.
- Children learn to assess risk and solve problems on their own.
- Children’s stress levels fall within minutes of seeing green spaces.
- Play protects children’s emotional development.
- Nature makes children nicer, enhancing social relationships.
Even the simplest experiences can enhance children’s experiences outside. I had the opportunity to visit the town of Reggio Emilia in Italy when I worked as a teacher at St. Mary’s Child Center. Giving children the opportunity to experience nature was a priority for these schools. At a center for infants and toddlers, the teachers put a large mirror down on a grassy area for the mobile infants to explore. While observing the play, I realized that for infants who just learned to crawl, this could have been their first experience with the sky! The teachers took pictures so the parents could also share in their child’s joyous discovery of the world around them. As child care providers, we can make a difference so let’s get them outside!
Here are some resources for you to get the children in your life out in nature!
[i] Children under 13 spend only 30 minutes per week in unstructured play time outdoors – Sandra Hofferth and J. Sandberg (1999)
[ii] Children between the ages of 8 and 18 years spend an average of nearly 6.5 hours a day with electronic media – Rideout, V. and Hamel, E. (2006). The Media Family: Electronic Media in the Lives of Infants, Toddlers, Preschoolers, and Their Parent. Kaiser Family Foundation. (Note: Remember this was published in 2006. Think of how much bigger Facebook, iPhones and iPads have become since then.)
Cover image by Flickr user Jeff Boyd, Creative Commons license.