Get the Kids Outside Challenge
A recent UK study commissioned by the National Trust revealed that children today spend half the time playing outside that their parents did. Children in the UK spend on average only 4 hours a week playing outside, compared to their parents who spent 8.2 hours outside when they were children.Children in the US ages 10-16 spend only 12.6 minutes per day engaging in rigorous outdoor activity, while they spend at least 10.4 waking hours relatively motionless (Child in the City, 2018). This lack of outdoor engagement and physical activity has come to be known as the Nature Deficit Disorder, the all-encompassing unofficial term for the negative effects that come as a result of a lack of nature in children's lives.
Why is this happening?
Many people blame the rise of technology and urban poverty for the rapid decline in outdoor exposure and while both of these factors play a big role, there are many other reasons kids are spending less and less time in nature.
Kids in the US between the ages of 0-8 spend, on average, 48 minutes per day on a mobile device, and even more time in front of a screen. They have more access than ever to iPads, TV screens and video games and, as a result, they are more tempted to seek entertainment inside rather than exploring the outdoors.
Along with this, parents have become more concerned with threats such as "stranger danger" and kids' ability to roam free, outside of the direct supervision of parents, has decreased drastically. Children's "radius of activity" - the area around their home where they are allowed to roam unsupervised - has decreased by almost 90%, meaning that children are much less free to discover natural phenomenon on their own.
Property values have increased exponentially over the past several decades, both in cities and in rural areas, which has created a shift in the way adults think about maximizing space. Nowadays, profiting off of residential and corporate buildings or parking garages is much more common than electing to save space for children's play. Because of this, cities are often unintentionally discouraging children from spending time outside.
All of these factors and more are continuing to drive children's outdoor engagement to an all-time low. This lack of engagement is having serious consequences on children's mental and physical health. Obesity levels are continuing to rise all over the US and Europe, children are experiencing vitamin D deficiencies, and a lack of physical fitness is creating a "generation of weaklings". Mental illnesses are also on the rise, something many health professionals claim is partially due to a lack of exposure to exploration, risk taking, fine and gross motor development, and the absorption of vast amounts of basic knowledge, all of which can be learned through outdoor play. In order to ensure that our kids gain the skills they need to succeed we need to encourage our kids to get outside and disconnect from screens.
This summer we are encouraging all our followers to find new ways to help cultivate a love of nature and the outdoors in their children. There are many creative activities children and families can do that are fun for all ages:
Backyard scavenger hunt: Challenge your kids to a backyard scavenger hunt! Have them race to collect things like leaves, rocks, and even different toys hidden around the backyard. Include bonus points for hard-to-find items like 4 leaf clovers and bird’s feathers etc. If you live in a more urban area, take kids to a playground or park!
Camp out in your backyard! Even if you don’t end up sleeping the whole night through in your tent, set one up and spend some time under the stars. If you don't have a tent, set up some cushions and blankets and have a campfire or a picnic.
DIY backyard games: There are a ton of cheap and creative games you can play in parks and backyards. Check out some of our favorite ones here:
Opt for playdates at the park instead of at home: By including more than just your family, you can create a neighborhood culture that values outdoor engagement. Playdates with more than one child will allow for more creativity and imagination and show kids that there are more ways to have fun and make personal connections rather than just watching TV. Get a bunch of kids and parents together and host a potluck in your backyard or local park. If it's especially hot, have each parent bring a cold drink or treat to cool everyone down.
Take the kids on a short hike or nature walk and turn it into a game. Tell them you're going on a search for bigfoot and break out the binoculars, compasses, and maps. You could also dress up like "explorers" and give the kids different small rewards for reaching different milestones on the walk. Walks like these teach kids to look up and learn from signs and maps instead of relying on GPS.
Coming up with fun, simple, and inexpensive activities for you and your kids to do during the summer will help to foster a love of the outdoors from a young age. This appreciation and understanding will directly translate into an understanding of the importance of sustainability and environmentally-friendly practices. Experiential education is the best way to instill these values and spread the practice of sustainable living in order to ensure our kids, and theirs, can enjoy the outdoors for years to come!
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