Kids NEED More Nature! Here’s How to Make it Happen.

Kids NEED More Nature! Here's How to Make it Happen. Rain or Shine MammaIf there’s one thing that I’m constantly worrying about, it is that my kids are not spending enough time in nature. Sure, we go outside for at least a little bit every day. But my oldest daughter has long school days, my youngest goes to daycare most of the time and my own work schedule can be extremely hectic. Even though we often spend hours on end outside on the weekends, I sometimes feel like we’re not getting enough “Vitamin N,” as author Richard Louv calls it.

As it turns out, I’m not the only one. Not enough outdoor time is actually a concern for parents across the globe. Among U.S parents, 65 percent worry that kids don’t get enough time outside, according to a recent survey by The Nature Conservancy in partnership with Disney. Parents in Brazil and Hong Kong feel the same way. As many as 82 percent of American parents also responded that nature is “very important” to their children’s development – second only to reading as a priority.

This is good. But unfortunately, kids still don’t get outside as much as they used to or need. According to the survey, American preschoolers spend 12 hours outside each week, whereas teenagers spend less than seven. In comparison, the average American child spends 53 hours per week watching TV, playing computer games and surfing the internet, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation.

If almost everybody thinks nature is important, then what’s keeping our kids indoors? Homework, electronics and after-school activities are competing for time in all the countries surveyed. The American parents and teenagers also said discomfort (too hot, too many bugs etc) was a big reason for staying indoors.

So how do we fix it? Here’s my recipe for a nature-deficit intervention:

  • Prioritize

I know from experience that it’s very easy to put nature on the back burner and treat it as an accessory that we’ll get to after we’re done with everything else. “I’m just going to fold this pile of laundry, then we’ll go outside.” But, as I explain in 13 Reasons to Let Your Child Play Outside, we need to realize that time in nature is a necessity for our kids (and us!) to stay healthy. I don’t know of a single parent who ever gets to the bottom of their to-do-list, so if you keep putting nature time off, it might not happen. It’s OK to let the dust bunnies under the couch wait another day, and forget about the 25-ingredient Pinterest recipe that you had planned to cook. Really. Pack a simple picnic and head out the door instead.

  • Set goals

As a fun challenge, the folks at 1,000 Hours Outside have vowed to spend a thousand hours outside with their kids in a year. Decide what’s a realistic goal for daily outdoor time for your family and go with that. As you make a habit of going outside in all kinds of weather your kids will learn how to handle it and become more comfortable. You don’t need to show up with a bucket list of activities – unstructured outdoor play is great for children and you can keep it as simple as you want to. Simple things like jumping in mud puddles, gazing at clouds and digging for worms are all perfectly acceptable activities!

  • Unplug and unwind

In nature, there are no distractions like TVs, computers and other electronics, making it ideal for family bonding time. Try to find some activities that all family members enjoy and treat it like quality time together rather than another thing that you “should be doing.” Unplugging in nature is equally beneficial to parents, who often tend to be just as addicted to electronics as kids (myself included), and can actually reduce stress. Try camping for a weekend without your electronic devices – you might be surprised by the effect it has on your family!

  • Bring it outside

Let your kids do their homework outside, either in your backyard or at a park on your way home from school. Nature can do wonders for children’s ability to concentrate. Let younger siblings bring out some of their favorite toys. Grab a blanket and read a book in the grass. Eat dinner on the deck. Many things that you would normally do inside  could just as well be done outside – what else can you think of?

  • Get connected

You don’t have to ban electronics to get kids back outside, just use them wisely. For example, we often use my smartphone to take photos of wildflowers and animal tracks that we later try to identify. I’m also among the 75% of parents who use online resources to learn about nature and the outdoors.  Many blogs that focus on connecting children with nature, including Nature Rocks, are full of ideas on where to go and what to do with kids of all ages and in all types of weather!

What’s your best tip to get kids back outdoors? Please share your thoughts!


12 thoughts on “Kids NEED More Nature! Here’s How to Make it Happen.

  1. Angie Six (@TheRiskyKids) says:

    I try not to let the weather affect our time outdoors. This isn’t easy for me – I’m definitely a fair weather kind of outdoor girl. But my kids don’t care, as long as it isn’t some kind of extreme weather. So I try to pretend like a grey, chilly day is just as good a day to get outside as a beautiful mild day, and my kids are happy to follow my lead.

    • Linda McGurk says:

      Angie, I think the “no bad weather, only bad clothes” attitude is uniquely Scandinavian, so it’s something I’ve carried with me since I was little. It becomes a way of life:o) It’s great that you still try to get out with the kids when the weather is less than ideal – as parents we are our kids’ main gatekeeper to nature.

  2. Mae says:

    I love the idea of doing homework outside. I have been worrying about this since reading the study you referred to. The school district I live in has decided to cut recess to one 15 minute period per day. Not sure how my son is going to deal with that. He isn’t in school yet but he will be soon and we all do better when we are outdoor, a lot.

    • Linda McGurk says:

      So sorry to hear that they cut recess, Mae. That’s such a short-sighted strategy and I don’t think it works. There is plenty of research showing that fresh air and exercise help kids concentrate and will help them academically in the long run.

  3. Susan Strayer says:

    I try to have my young children play outside before any screens come on. I can tell a huge difference in my mood and patience if I spend time outside, and a huge difference in my kids’ imaginative play when they play outside. Having a garden helps get us out on a daily basis because there’s always work to be done, and it’s fun to see the plants progress every day.

  4. Karen Bell says:

    Great ideas. It can be difficult for parents to get the kids outside with nature sometimes, when life takes over, but it is good to try to involve outdoors within normal activities. I like the idea of taking homework outside.
    Thanks for linking #LetKidsBeKids

    • Linda McGurk says:

      Thanks for stopping by, Karen! Yes, life definitely gets hectic for parents sometimes, which I think is another good reason to encourage more outdoor classrooms and forest schools. That way, kids would get more outdoor time during the school week. But that’s a topic for another blog post;o)

  5. Fiona says:

    Thank you for a great post. We’re lucky to live in Australia where outdoor play at school hasn’t yet come under attack. My daughter has 90 minutes outdoors every school day in a beautiful playground. The kids are free to climb trees, hide in the bushes, and play in the dirt. One thing that works for us to increase our time outdoors is to eat our evening meal in the backyard whenever the weather permits. I find that eating outdoors usually leads to my daughter playing outdoors afterwards while I clean up and do the dishes. Or sometimes I ditch the dishes and stay outside too! We’re just 75 hours away from the achieving the 1000 House Outside challenge with just over a month to go. I often say that if I can do it, as a single parent who works full time, then anyone can!

    • Linda McGurk says:

      Wow, how wonderful that your daughter’s school has 90 minutes of outdoor recess every day! That’s how it used to be for me growing up in Sweden but unfortunately it’s not the norm in the U.S. And well done on the 1,000 Hours Outside challenge – I haven’t tracked our outdoor time yet but I think it’s a fun way to make sure that you get outside enough:o)

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