Many of us—particularly those of us who frequent parks and green spaces—know that spending time in nature positively benefits our mental and physical healths. Doctors prescribe time in nature as a way to reduce stress, relieve anxiety, improve blood pressure and circulation, and increase physical fitness. These benefits apply to people of all ages, including children.
In fact, children may see even more benefits from spending time outdoors.
Regularly spending time in nature during one’s youth can improve cognitive abilities and confidence. By providing children with unstructured outdoor play, children are forced to create their own games, independently solve problems—how to get over that log, how to build that stick structure—and activate their senses of curiosity and creativity.
Children also learn social skills and empathy in meeting other children—including children of different ethnic and racial backgrounds—while visiting parks and playgrounds. In expanding upon their exposures to diversity, children are able to develop unique friendships that may not naturally happen within their individual neighborhoods.
Children who have elevated energy levels, trouble focusing, or are affected by disorders such as ADD or ADHD can find enjoyment, peace, and mental clarity in spending time in nature, as can their guardians. By allowing children to further develop their innate love of nature, children and guardians can spend time with one another in lower-stressed environments.
The bad news? Children are spending less and less time in nature. While technology has its benefits, social media use in particular, in teens and younger children, is directly related to increased levels of depression and suicidal thoughts. Screen time that includes both social media usage and otherwise can lead to inactive lifestyles and consequently, increased childhood obesity rates. Add to this the fact that screen time generally detracts from socializing, and it's easy to see the value in occasionally stepping away from our devices.
The remedy? Get outdoors. It’s important for children—for everyone—to spend time outdoors and within nature. Let’s balance our hours behind desks and screens with time spent in our local parks. The benefits are numerous and the data is concrete.