By Scott Colby
Remember running outside when you were a kid – playing tag or hide-and-go-seek? Or even just exploring in the woods? We went sledding, built forts, rode bikes with friends, helped our parents in the garden, mowed lawns and played basketball.
Today is a far cry from the good ole days as the average kid spends less than seven minutes a day outside in unstructured play.
To go along with that, the time they spend in front of a screen has shot up to more than seven hours a day, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation.
Never before in history have children been so plugged in-and so out of touch with the natural world. In his book, Last Child in the Woods, child advocacy expert Richard Louv directly links the lack of nature in the lives of today’s wired generation – he calls it nature deficit – to some of the most disturbing childhood trends, such as rises in obesity, Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), and depression.
Time spent looking at screens, social pressures, consumerism, everything being more instantly accessible – all this means that people are living lifestyles that are a lot less healthy.
It’s time we come together and do something about this! Because it’s pretty well documented that spending time unplugged and outdoors is critical to the health of kids and their mental, physical, and emotional development.
Dr. Dimitri Christakis has spent years researching the correlation between children’s early experiences and their effects on the brain. “So what we do know about babies playing with iPads is that they don’t transfer what they learn from the iPad to the real world, which is to say that if you give a child an app where they play with virtual Legos, virtual blocks, and stack them, and then put real blocks in front of them, they start all over,” he said. “It’s not a transferable skill. They don’t transfer the knowledge from two dimensions to three.”
Several studies also have linked unplugged, outside time to higher test scores, lower anxiety and aggression, more creativity and improved attention spans. Spending significant time outdoors before the age of 11 is linked to a higher pro-nature worldview.
So get outside with your kids and play every day. It doesn’t have to be all the way to a park. The backyard will do just fine, or even just go for a walk. If you’ve got a toddler, let him or her lead the way (as long as it’s not into oncoming traffic). Toddlers have an innate sense of wonder at the world around them. Watch them stoop down to look more closely at ants building an anthill on the sidewalk or a caterpillar on a leaf. Bend down and peer with them. You’ll be surprised at just how many details they notice.
Just like plants, children need sunlight and fresh air to grow. For every unplugged moment they’re spending outside, your kids are growing healthier bodies, positive habits and clearer, calmer minds.