Growing up, I enjoyed a “free-range childhood.” When my sister and I were bored we’d complain to our parents that we had nothing to do. Knowing the treasure trove that lay outside our front door and the benefit of outside activities for kids, they’d respond, “go outside and play!” We’d groan, dragging our feet out the door, but end up spending hours and hours making forts, catching frogs, playing tag — digging into a chest full of costumes to play make-believe in the forest behind our house. By the time dinner was ready, we were ravenous and full of excitement about the latest fantasy world we had just created. The freedom to fully explore nature until the sun went down helped us develop a close relationship with nature.
It’s no surprise that children today spend less time outdoors than older generations. The rise of technology has shifted the way children not only learn, but how they play. In this article, we’ll take a look at how technology affects brain development in children, how you can encourage more outdoor time in your household, and give you five fun, outside activities for kids that foster creativity and independence, and help build healthy relationships with others.
How Does Technology Affect Brain Development In Kids?
When I compare my childhood to my younger nieces and nephews, it’s clear there’s a huge and unhealthy shift towards a childhood spent almost entirely indoors. In fact, the average American kid spends 5-8 hours in front of a screen each day.  An unfortunate result of the time spent indoors is the doubling of obesity rates in the past 20 years. Children are unhappier too: prescriptions for child antidepressants are on the rise and the fastest growing segment is preschool children between the ages of 0-5 years. [2, 3]😢
How Much Time Should A Child Spend Outside?
If you’re asking yourself, “how much time should a child spend outside?” aim for at least sixty minutes a day. Abundant research shows that when kids spend at least an hour outside a day, they have the chance to interact with nature which nurtures their creativity and happiness levels, as well as:
- Reduces stress levels
- Builds resilience
- Improves physical health
- Raises school performance
- Improves psychological well-being
- Increases socialization
- Promotes better sleep
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3 Benefits of Outdoor Play On Children’s Health
If you’ve spent time in nature with your kids, you know it can create some of the most vivid memories. Interactions with nature can be shared and cherished between parents and children, as well as between siblings.
Are you we’re worried about dirt. “Don’t bring all of that dirt into the house!” “Wash your hands!” “You don’t know where that’s been!” We do this to try and keep our kids safe. The dirty truth is that playing outside and getting dirty is good for kids. Playing in dirt increases a child’s immune system, reduces anxiety, and helps them learn experientially.
1. Deepens a child’s appreciation for nature
When children have the confidence to get outside and play, they gain respect for the outdoors. Rites of passage happen in nature: A child climbs their first tree. Catches their first fish. Swims in the ocean for the first time. Wishes on a shooting star.
The number of positive interactions you and your child can experience in nature is truly endless. The more time you spend together in nature, the more your family will begin to view the outdoors as a playground and a classroom — presenting you, the parent, with incredible teaching opportunities. When your child spends an hour building a sandcastle only to see a wave wash it away, you can teach about the natural life cycle of creation and death. When you come across burnt trees in the forest, you can talk about the impact of fires on an ecosystem.
Kids are hearing about the destruction of polar ice caps and the amount of plastic in our oceans. By giving them opportunities to engage with nature, you can help them find meaning in their outside world.
2. Builds immunity
Raising your child in a clean environment can actually prevent your child from building up the necessary defenses to protect them from getting sick. In a book by Jack Gilbert, Dirt is Good: The Advantage of Germs for Your Child’s Developing Immune System,Gilbert argues that exposing kids to dirt and germs is good for a child’s immune system. The moral of the book? Let your kids play in the dirt and have fun. It may benefit their health more than you think.
3: Helps maintain a healthy mind and body
Regular visits to the park, forest, hiking trails, or ocean can improve a child’s emotional and physical health. Playing outside increases a child’s fitness levels andprevents childhood conditions like:
- Attention Deficit Disorder (ADHD)
- Vitamin D deficiency
- Cardiovascular disease
How many times have you stood in nature and awed at the beauty? How many times have you gotten lost on a trail and found your way home? Nature provides our children with the freedom to stretch their mental and physical capabilities. Playing outside encourages them to problem solve, stretch their imagination, and nurture a genuine sense of curiosity. When kids are exercising and playing outside, they burn off more energy. They are less stressed or anxious when they are sitting in a classroom because they have just done what kids do: run around and play. In fact, research shows that children who spend more time outdoors have higher academic performance and a greater ability to focus in the classroom. 
Get your kids moving outside as often as you can. It’s that simple, but in today’s world, it’s also that hard. Finding time to pull your children away from screens or accessing green spaces when you live in urban areas can be hard.
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5 Outdoor Activities For Kids
Luckily, there are ways to get your kids outside and find outside activities for kids that expose them to the endless entertainment of the outdoors. Here are 5 fun activities you can do with your kids to get the whole family moving and grooving!
Activity 1: Find a Sit Spot
This is a fun activity for you and your children to do at the same time. A sit spot encourages your kids to connect with nature and track new changes to their “spot” —observing the habits of animals that share the spot with them: Like birds, spiders, and ants.
- Step 1: Tell your kids that you will all be finding your own special spot: A special spot can be the foot of a tree, on the porch, or somewhere in the backyard.
- Step 2: Everyone goes off to find their own special spot.
- Step 3: Once you find your spot, spend five or ten minutes sitting there. Encourage your children to create a special relationship with their spot.
- Step 4: When the time is up, everyone will meet back at a designated spot.
Activity 2: Make leaf imprints
This is a fun way to learn the names of different plants while also creating something beautiful. This activity is best done in the spring or summer months when plants and flowers are at their full size. You can use the cotton as wrapping paper or as a decoration in your home!
- Step 1: Collect the plants you want to use.
- Step 2: Cut a piece of the cotton sheet to your desired size.
- Step 3: Arrange the plants on a hard surface and place the cotton square on top. Repeatedly hit the area with the hammer.
- Step 4: Remove the cotton sheet and reveal your unique pattern!
Tools: Scissors, hard surface, hammer or stone,
Materials: Cotton sheet
Activity 3: Flashlight tag
Flashlight tag is a mix between hide and seek and tag. This is a great one to play on hot summer nights after the sun has gone down or even at night around your house!
- Step 1: Choose one player to be “it”
- Step 2: Designate an area where players who are caught have to stay inside of
- Step 3: Give the flashlight to a player who is “it”
- Step 4: “It” player count to 100
- Step 5: While the “it” counts, the rest of the players hide
- Step 6: “It” then turns on the flashlight and tries to find the other players
- Step 7: When “it” flashes a player with their flashlight, “it” calls out his or her name
- Step 8: Caught players have to wait in the designated area until the last player is found
- Step 9: The last player to be found becomes the new “it” and the game starts again
Players: 3 or more
Space: Medium to large
Activity 4: Abstract nature collage
This activity is a great way to spark creativity and return to nature. Don’t want to spend a fortune at the craft store? No problem! Mother nature provides you with the most wonderful materials to make art in a variety of stunning colors, textures, and shapes!
- Step 1: Look around to see what’s near you.
- Step 2: Gather sticks, leaves, stones, flowers, and whatever else you want to include in your collage.
- Step 3: Use clay or mud as a natural glue for sticking materials together.
- Step 4: Let the materials in nature guide your masterpiece!
- Step 5: Take a photograph of the piece of art and leave the collage in nature. Other explorers will love to see it too!
Materials: Anything in nature
Activity 5: Unstructured play
On a beautiful day, what’s better than getting outside, taking off your shoes, and playing in a park? This activity is simple: Just play!
- Step 1: Go outside
- Step 2: Do whatever you want
Researchers found that when kids play freely in nature, they are happier, more energetic, and livelier!
Getting Kids Outside
Although these activities are designed for kids, make exploring nature a family activity!
The benefits of going outside are not just for kids! You can play alongside them and who knows? You may experience profound increases in your happiness, physical health, and mental wellbeing too!
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