Some of my best and most memorable childhood experiences revolve around the great outdoors. Getting stuck in mud puddles and losing my rubber boots, climbing hay bales in the field at the baseball diamond while my mom played softball, camping out in our back yard and floating down the river with friends on a hot summer’s day. If you think about it aside from special holidays and events I bet most of your favorite memories also revolve around being outside. Being in nature is not only good for your physical health with the benefits of increased vitamin D and rough and tumble play but for your mental health as well.
Right now the statistics for the amount of time spent in unstructured outdoor play for children is quite alarming. In an article published by childmind.org the average American child is said to spend only 4-7 minutes of unstructured play outdoors and over 7 hours a day in front of a screen! Technology and recent global events have played a huge factor in this, along with parental fears of the dangers of playing outside. Although some of these concerns may be warranted we need to consider how the decreased time outdoors is affecting our children long term.
Studies have shown that decreased nature play can affect your child’s mental state leading to feelings of anxiety and depression later in life and children who grew up in natural surroundings that went outside daily for unstructured play have a 55 percent lower risk of developing a mental health disorder as an adult.
There are many benefits to nature play in regards to physical and mental health and here are a few of my favorites.
So how much time should your child spend outside each day? There are many schools of thought from 30 minutes to 3 hours a day but even just 5 minutes a day can instantly boost your child’s mood. If you take an average from the studies that have been published you’ll find that 45 minutes to 1 hour a day of unstructured play outdoors is the sweet spot. This is time where your child can just play and explore at a park, green space or even in your back yard if you have one. Nature walks can count as well as long as there is no agenda like going from A to B with a limited amount of time to explore. Allow time for your child to investigate and be in awe of their surroundings.
In conclusion I believe if we all prioritized more time outside for our children (and ourselves) we can reap the many mental, emotional and physical benefits and be more joyful humans.