In modern society, many children have extremely limited time spent outside. And that time may be on a concrete playground without access to many elements of nature.
A 2016 UK study indicated that the average child in Great Britain spends only 4 hours outside per week. In contrast, the American Heart Association reports the average child spend 7 hours per day looking at screens, and warns parents to make a shift.
Are we doing our children a dis-service by restricted their time in nature in favor of technology overload. There is plenty of evidence that indicates children SHOULD spend more time in nature – its good for their mental, physical, and emotional health.
This study out of Denmark found that children with high levels of access to green spaces and time in nature have a reduced incident of psychiatric disorders in childhood through adulthood. The only disorder that did not correlate to access to nature, were intellectual disability and schizophrenia.
Our results show that high levels of childhood green space are associated with lower risk of developing any of a spectrum of adolescent into adult psychiatric disorders.
In fact, the results indicated that access to nature allowed children to overcome other “disadvantages” in mental health, including their parent’s socioeconomic status, family history of mental illness, and age.
Another study indicates there are a variety of pathways that directly link time in spent in nature and health. Those include:
1. Air Quality – Trees and other forms of vegetation actually reduce the level of airborne pollutants. Children who are growing up in urban or suburban environments are not exposed to the same quality of air as children who grow up in the country. Clean aire is critical to our health and well-being, so if you live in an area with limited greenery, its important to take your kids to natural spaces as often as possible.
Trees also indirectly benefit our air quality by lowering temperatures in hot months (shade) and thus reducing the need for high energy consumption for air conditioning. This means fewer coal emissions are being sent into the air, which means ALL of our air quality improves.
2. Physical Activity – movement has been linked to improved health for individuals of all ages. When children are forced to sit in a classroom at a desk, they are not getting the needed movement their bodies need. Movement manually pumps your lymphatic system, gets your heart rate up, and oxygenates your blood. Spending time outside is CRITICAL for the health of young children, and our modem classrooms simply do not provide this.
3. Social Cohesion – this study also found that time in nature increased social cohesion for children and adults. Imagine children playing in a fort together and how they interact to build the fort, create character roles, and find pieces of nature to fulfill their needs. Then imagine children in a home staring at a TV or in a classroom listening to a teacher, not allowed to whisper, giggle, or play. You can see very simply how nature can increase social cohesion.
4. Chronic Stress Reduction – In our go – go – go world, we all know someone suffering from illness created by or contributed to by chronic stress. Stress can influence our mental, physical and emotional health in big ways. This study cites many additional studies that dive into the research between nature and stress reduction. As we reduce stress, we reduce illness across the spectrum.
Not only is time in nature good for your child’s health – but it is critical in their brain development. According to this study by Stanford Health, there are many benefits to unstructured play in nature for children:
- Children become physically more healthy
- It contributes to cognitive and emotional development
- Improves sensory development
- Increased attention spans
- More happiness and better Immunity.
The Huffington Post interviewed the author of Balanced and Barefoot, Angela Handscom, who claims that children should spend a minimum of 3 hours per day in nature.
Angela calls active free play, especially outdoors, “the most beneficial gift we as parents…can bestow on our children.”
You an check out her book here:
In order to provide children with a more nature-filled life, one family is pushing back against the mainstream education method with their lifestyle blog – 1000hoursinnature.com – they claim that if 3 hours is the suggested base line minimum of time spent outside, then parents should be aiming for more. The benefits are just astounding.
You can get on meetup.com or facebook and find forest-schooling communities in your area! In Austin the group is free and run by volunteers/parents. There are also programs like the Earth Native Wilderness School that offer outdoor based curriculum.
More from the Homestead Guru:
- Stanford University Prescribes Nature for Mental Health Patients(Opens in a new browser tab)
- Nature Study – Why Children Thrive Learning Outside(Opens in a new browser tab)
- Road Schooling: Ditch the Classroom and Learn from the World(Opens in a new browser tab)
- Knives and Fires at Preschool? Yes, It’s a Good Thing.(Opens in a new browser tab)
- Arizona Lawmaker Says Public School Not Necessary(Opens in a new browser tab)
- Study: Children Who Spend More Time in Nature Are Healthier and Happier(Opens in a new browser tab)