Staying Outside During “Back to School”

5_19_!3_Crystal_026

It’s that time of year again! New clothes, new pencils (or electronic pens and tablets), new backpacks. Some kids are excited, and some might be dreading, the inevitable back to school weeks.

For a lot of families, “Back to School” might also mean more time indoors. As school programs start to reduce, or maybe even cancel, gym and recess, it’s important to make sure your kids are continuing to learn outside the classroom. We at Atlas encourage year-round outdoor adventures, not just for your physical health, but also as exercise for the mind.

According to a study from The Child Mind Institute, “The average American child is said to spend 4 to 7 minutes a day in unstructured play outdoors, and over 7 hours a day in front of a screen”. This uptick in indoor-time even has a name: Nature Deficit Disorder.

Why is getting outside so important? Can’t kids learn just as well with their screens? The article lays it out for us:

  • It builds confidence. The way that kids play in nature has a lot less structure than most types of indoor play. There are infinite ways to interact with outdoor environments, from the backyard to the park to the local hiking trail or lake, and letting your child choose how he treats nature means he has the power to control his own actions.
  • It promotes creativity and imagination. This unstructured style of play also allows kids to interact meaningfully with their surroundings. They can think more freely, design their own activities, and approach the world in inventive ways.
  • It teaches responsibility. Living things die if mistreated or not taken care of properly, and entrusting a child to take care of the living parts of their environment means they’ll learn what happens when they forget to water a plant, or pull a flower out by its roots.
  • It provides different stimulation. Nature may seem less stimulating than your son’s violent video game, but in reality, it activates more senses—you can see, hear, smell, and touch outdoor environments.
  • It gets kids moving. Most ways of interacting with nature involve more exercise than sitting on the couch. Your kid doesn’t have to be joining the local soccer team or riding a bike through the park—even a walk will get her blood pumping. Not only is exercise good for kids’ bodies, but it seems to make them more focused, which is especially beneficial for kids with ADHD.
  • It makes them think. Nature creates a unique sense of wonder for kids that no other environment can provide. The phenomena that occur naturally in backyards and parks everyday make kids ask questions about the earth and the life that it supports.
  • It reduces stress and fatigue. According to the Attention Restoration Theory, urban environments require what’s called directed attention, which forces us to ignore distractions and exhausts our brains. In natural environments, we practice an effortless type of attention known as soft fascination that creates feelings of pleasure, not fatigue.

We get it, technology is a part of our everyday lives. But we encourage you to make a goal this fall and winter: to get out more or get out in a different way. Maybe this is the time to buy your kids some snowshoes. Maybe it’s getting them so cool new gear that gets them excited about being in the snow. What can we do to entertain our kids away from their screens? The Washington Trails Association has some great games you can print and bring on your hikes. Your kids will have fun, enjoy the outdoors, and YOU get more happy family time. Win win!