Outdoor Time for Our Children’s Mental Health

Many schools are now closed for the rest of the academic year. Stay-at-home orders may be expiring or for some states such as NY or NJ, they remain. Either way, your child’s schedule, now more than ever, needs to include some outdoor time!

You can still social distance and take advantage of nature. Time outdoors is essential for overall health!

Studies have shown:

  • Children often exert themselves more outdoors than indoors so more outdoor time is correlated with less obesity.
  • Children with more nature time have much less near sightedness.
  • Children with outdoor time have increased motor development.
  • Children who play and learn in nature can be more engaged in learning. There is increased curiosity, creativity, and critical thinking.
  • Children who spent more time in nature exploration had improved learning outcomes.
  • Children who play and learn in nature can be better behaved. When children spent time in natural settings there had less anger and aggression. Impulse control also improves.
  • Children who play and learn in nature are mentally healthier. Stress and depression are reduced for all people who spend time in nature. Children show increased focus and reduced risk for Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder.

That sounds great, but many parents are unsure of how to create play environments for their children outdoors. It’s actually pretty simple. Nature does the job for you, but here are a couple of ideas to get you started!

Nature exploration with proper social distancing can happen in your yard, a table-top garden, or even on the front porch.

Bringing out baby. Even infants and toddlers can play and learn in nature. I still recommend avoiding public places like parks, which can be crowded. However, you can take them for hikes or walks in an infant carrier or stroller.

Make a sculpture! Play dough plus twigs, leaves, cones, rocks and more is a great way for your child to use their imaginative side!

Challenge older children and teens. Stay engaged with the outdoors as a family. Take advantage of this time to bond over activities everyone enjoys. Have picnics outside. Take bicycle rids together as a family. Grab a soccer ball, football, baseball and have some fun!

Hold a nature scavenger hunt for the family. Include categories like plants, trees, animals, birds. Who can create the longest list of the signs of spring that they find? How many different flowers can you photograph?

Take advantage of the healing power of nature—in your own backyard or on a walk. Just remember to follow local public health guidance and keep at least 6 feet from others outside your family. Wash your hands with soap and water or hand sanitizer once you return from your adventure. Getting outdoors, being in nature, and moving our bodies is good for everyone!

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